For honor & service
Mark, a husky guy in sunglasses, black leather jacket and a full blond-and-gray beard, approached my father at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was quick with a handshake. And kind words. “Thank you for your service,” he told my dad, Harold “Jeff” Wilkin Jr. of Rochester, who spent the first half of the 1940s with the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII.
My 90-year-old father knows few motorcycle guys like Mark, a road captain with the Winston-Salem chapter of the national Harley Owners Group cycle club. But he met bunches of riders — and fellow veterans — during an Honor Flight out of Rochester on Sept. 17.
The Honor project has been around for a few years now — veterans from around the country are flown to Washington to see the inspiring war memorials and accept thanks from a grateful public. Folks who run the plane rides and sightseeing tours think the fliers, sailors, soldiers, nurses and support staffers never received grand welcomes home when the war ended in 1945. Days and nights in Washington are meant to be long-overdue celebrations. Posted on November 6, 2011.
Army Air Transport Command of the 1940s meets U.S. Navy of the 2010s ... H.J. Wilkin Jr. and sailor Benjamin from Idaho on the Rochester "Honor Flight" outside BMI Airport. (Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter)
Harold “Jeff” Wilkin Jr. sits near one of the salutes to aviation at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., during his Honor Flight trip to the nation’s capital. (Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter)
Plenty of bikers at the World War II Memorial in Washington to greet veterans visiting on "honor flights" from around the country. Biker "Mark" from the Winston-Salem chapter of the Harley Owners Group (HOG) kneels for a photo with H.J. Wilkin Jr. of Rochester. (Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter)
Harold “Jeff” Wilkin Jr. and his son Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at the World War II Memorial in Washington during their Honor Flight visit. (courtesy of Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter)
A British member of the Harley Owners Group thanks Wilkin for his service during the war. (Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter)
Wilkin tells a joke to veteran Joseph “Jiggs” Petrucci of Seneca Falls (far right) and Jiggs’ cousin, John B. Cafaro, also of Seneca Falls, after the Honor Flight banquet in Baltimore. (Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter)
Nurse Laurie Palmer smiles as Harold “Jeff” Wilkin Jr. grabs a quick shave in a hospitality room at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. (Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter)
Cousin Karen Weaver, along with other family members and friends, welcomes H.J. Wilkin back to Rochester after his "Honor Flight." Karen holds a legendary family photograph of the "Sergeants Four." If you zoom in, that's Dad standing at upper left, Uncle Bill of WWII at upper right; Grandpa Wilkin, a WWI Marine, sitting at left, and Uncle Tom Wilkin, Korean War Marine, at lower right. Story goes that after the guys had the picture taken during the 1950s, a proposal was made to go to a bar or grill. But Grandpa said no ... he was afraid the guys in uniform might have gotten into a fight with bar patrons who might have said something unkind about the military outfits! (Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter)