National group pays for Marine's trip to Washington, D.C., recently
While serving in the Marine Corps during World War II, Floyd Kirby saw action in Guam and at the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the fiercest battles against the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.
Kirby, a Corbett resident, had never visited the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was built to honor him and fellow Americans who served in the war.
That changed when Kirby, 86, was selected to travel with 27 other World War II veterans from around Oregon to the nation's capital Oct. 13-16, courtesy of the Honor Flight Network.
The visit brought up a lot of memories and emotions, and 'a lot of tears were shed,' Kirby says.
'I thought it was absolutely wonderful,' he says about the memorial. 'It brings tears to your eyes to see it. It's absolutely wonderful.'
The nonprofit Honor Flight Network provides veterans a free trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials and get a 'last hurrah' in recognition of their service, according to the website. Top priority is given to World War II veterans and other veterans who are terminally ill.
The organization says that around 1,000 World War II veterans die each day. In another five to seven years, it estimates, all of the World War II veterans may be gone.
After learning about the organization, Kirby applied in June 2009. After two years, Kirby had moved from position 141 to position 119 on the Portland-area waiting list. He was recently moved to the Eastern Oregon group and got the call to go about two weeks later.
Kirby's group included one other Marine, a Navy Seabee and Fairview resident Anthony Galluzzo, a Navy veteran. Most of the veterans are in their 80s; the oldest people on the trip, a nurse and the Seabee, were 92.
The organization paid for everything on the trip from meals to transportation, Kirby says. Southwest Airlines provided transportation.
On the first day in Washington, D.C., the group, dressed in veterans' hats and Honor Flight program T-shirts, toured the U.S. Capitol before visiting the World War II memorial, where they spent about three hours.
'About 400,000 died in World War II and on the wall, they have 400 gold stars; each one of those represents 100 people that were killed,' Kirby says.
At the memorial, the group met with former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a fellow World War II veteran who co-chaired the corporate fundraising for the monument. Dole told them that he tries to visit the memorial every Saturday.
Dole's wife, former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, even gave Kirby a kiss on the right cheek because she had a relative who also served at Iwo Jima.
'I'll never wash this cheek again,' Kirby says with a smile.
Kirby was also impressed by the positive attention that the veterans received from other memorial visitors.
'Everybody there wanted to shake your hand and tell you how thankful they are,' he says. 'Women give you hugs. You see people in the street, and they want to shake your hand. They're much more friendly or glad for what we boys and girls did over there.'
Remembering Iwo Jima
With his father's permission, Kirby enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17 while he was a student at Washington High School in Portland.
'I thought (the Marine Corps) was the best one to get a hold of, so I got out of high school and signed up right away,' Kirby says. 'I wanted to go fight for our country.'
At Iwo Jima, Kirby served in the 3rd Marine Division as private first class. He was on the island Feb. 23, 1945, when five Marines and a Navy corpsman raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi, a feat captured in a photograph that instantly became an iconic image. Kirby was later wounded in the two-month battle, which saw more than 25,000 Allied casualties, and received the Purple Heart.
'A very, very, very bad, bloody battle that was, Iwo Jima,' Kirby says. 'Lots of boys were killed there.'
Kirby recalls that before he and his fellow Marines stormed the beach, a lieutenant told them that they were outnumbered 10 to one by Japanese soldiers, and that he wanted them to kill at least 10 enemy soldiers before getting killed themselves.
'Yes, sir!' they replied.
Kirby later learned, to his amusement, that a Japanese general at Iwo Jima had given his own soldiers the same order.
Other war memorials visited
Kirby says the group also visited the Lincoln and Washington monuments, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, where it donated a wreath.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial - which lists the names of almost 58,200 soldiers killed or missing in action - Kirby made a pencil tracing over the name of his cousin, Donald Kirby III, who served in the Army.
When the group returned to Portland International Airport on Sunday, Oct. 16, another surprise was waiting.
As the plane taxied along the runway, two fire trucks on both sides sprayed an arc of water over the plane; it's a ceremony usually conducted to honor retiring airline pilots on their last trip.
Kirby received an Honor Flight T-shirt, an American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 11, 2011, and a World War II memorial book. He will also receive a book of photos of the trip.
In the decades following the war, Kirby settled in Corbett and started his own janitorial company, whose clients included Gresham City Hall, he said. Kirby also volunteered with the Corbett fire department for 35 years, serving one year as assistant fire chief.
Kirby resides with his wife, June, on his blueberry farm near Crown Point. He has three children and seven grandchildren.
Kirby says he keeps busy with exercise, serves as an usher at Mountainview Christian Church in Gresham and is a member of the Rusty Zippers club, a men's social group.
Kirby praised the Honor Flight Network for providing such a leisurely trip and giving him the opportunity to visit the memorial.
'Every veteran should be able to see this before they die, I hope.'
• Founded in 2005, the Honor Flight Network has transported more than 63,000 veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam - including 22,149 veterans in 2010 - to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorials at no cost. The trips are funded by donations. For more information, visit honorflight.org or call 937-521-2400.