A Personal Reflection: Catholic men from ‘greatest generation’ take Honor Flight

By Donia Crouch
Guest Columnist

Have you ever been sitting in an airport when a soldier in uniform walked through? Most likely, it provoked a standing ovation.  It makes for a heartwarming moment. But, now there’s an even better way to show gratitude to our veterans. It’s called Honor Flight. An expense paid visit to Washington, it is a chance for them to tour the Washington monuments built to honor them. In October, several area Catholics made the trip. 
The Honor Flight network was co-founded in 2005 by Jeff Miller, son of a veteran and nephew of a bomber pilot and Earl Morse, a physician’s assistant and retired Air Force Captain. In 2004, excited about the recent completion of the WWII Memorial, Morse began asking his veteran patients if they planned a visit. Most said yes. Six months later, Morse brought it up again.  None had gone. Finally, he offered to escort two of his patients to Washington. They cried. Then they accepted his offer. 
That made an impression. Morse came home with a pitch for the local aero club. How about if pilots paid for the flights and escorted WWII vets to Washington themselves? By 2005, the organization was up and running. Morse’s group merged with Honor Air (Miller’s endeavor) to create Honor Flight.  
My father would have loved it. He was proud of time spent as a naval lieutenant on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. When he returned to the states and married, Charles Anthony Caspersen Jr. taught loyalty and patriotism to all 14 of his kids. Unfortunately, he died before Honor Flight was created.  Perhaps that’s why I enjoy hearing from those who make the trip, like Jack Puryear. 
Born in Beaumont, Puryear joined the Navy in l943. As a naval aerial photographer in Guadalcanal, his job was to produce mosaic maps. “We took overlapping photographs so our troops would know where to land so they could capture the island.” When he wasn’t shooting a camera, he was manning a machine gun. He and fellow members of that eight plane squadron earned 7 Battle Stars and 5 Air Medals.
Jack has been active in the Austin diocese since the 1940s when Bishop Reicher was in charge. Over the years, he has been instrumental in starting several charitable organizations. His favorites are those that have helped kids. He spoke of his work with the Shivers Cancer Treatment Center. “Back in the 70s, we lost 80 percent of the children. Today we save 80 percent,” he said. “It’s a good feeling”. 
Mark Clement knows the feeling. He served for years on the board of St. Rita’s Catholic School in Dallas modeling philanthropy for his daughters, Hilary and Margaret. He served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps during WWII. In 1951, after earning a couple of degrees in geology, he was called back to active duty during the Korean War. In his time at St. Rita’s, he served as a lector and lay chairmen for the Catholic Community Appeal. “There are always a lot of things you can do,” he said.
Dr. Jack Schneider believes it. Serving as a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman from l945-l947 at St. Albans Naval Hospital in Long Island, N.Y., he treated sailors, marines and merchant marines. After the war, even with six kids and a thriving medical practice, he made time for the poor.  Jack was a founding member of St. Luke’s Society – a group of doctors who took turns donating services to the clinic at Brackenridge. “We never turned a patient down,” he said. 
These men have more in common than a passion for God and country and a generous spirit. How appropriate that they sat aboard the same Honor Flight. They share the same habit of doing for others. That’s one more reason they are known as “The Greatest Generation” 
Honor Flight depends solely on private funding. For information, visit www.honorflightaustin.org.