By Dottie Dewberry
For the WPT
“If God had really intended men to fly, he’d have made it easier to get to the airport.”— George Winters
On April 23, one World War II veteran from Maben, one Vietnam War veteran from Maben and a whole host of other World War II vets blasted out of Gulfport at exactly 6:30 a.m. heading to Washington to view the World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Former Marine Sgt. Wyman Bishop and former Marine Cpl. William Carpenter left Maben on April 22 for Gulfport. They stayed overnight and flew to the nation’s capital the next morning, where they were met at Reagan National Airport and transported by bus for their tour of the Jewel of the Mall and Arlington Cemetery.
But before any of this ever occurred, Bishop just happened to see an advertisement in a newspaper telling about the Mississippi Gulf Coast Fifth Honor Flight, which was for World War II vets to fly to Washington from Gulfport to view the WWII Memorial. So he made a phone call to a VFW commander (a number was supplied) and talked to him about what he (Bishop) would have to do to participate. This was a sponsored (fully paid) flight for Bishop.
Step 1 was to fill out the application and Step 2 was to secure a guardian, which would be William “Billy” Carpenter. From there, things started unfolding. When he was accepted, the excitement began: making hotel arrangements, packing a small overnight bag for the stay in Gulfport before and after the trip, and getting time off from the wives.
They had to go to Gulfport on March 23 for orientation, which took place at the Joppa Shrine Center. This was for everyone that was going. Bishop had to meet with doctors and nurses to be checked and to see what might be required: wheelchair, walker, oxygen and whatever medicine they were taking. This was to make sure nothing unexpected happened to our veterans.
After they flew into Reagan National Airport, it was a mad dash (slowly) around the National Mall. They were moved by bus to the WWII Memorial, where Sen. Roger Wicker, Congressman Alan Nunnelee and Congressman Steve Palazzo welcomed them.
Here the vet visitors were entertained by bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace.” After this they were met by an Honor Guard made up all branches of the military that sang the national anthem: “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At the end, a bugler played “Taps.”
From there they were moved on down to the Mississippi Column, where they made photos with the Marines and veterans from the Fifth Honor Flight of Mississippi, who hung a wreath to honor our World War II veterans. Afterwards they had a sack lunch provided for them by the sponsors.
The bus moved them to see the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and then the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“The Wall”). Using the books provided, Billy was able to locate the names of people with whom he had served. After locating the names of William “Bill” Seaborn Jr. from Walthall and Joe Hugh Fulgham from Choctaw County, he did pencil rubbings.
They then moved on to see the famous Iwo Jima Memorial, where they got to make pictures.
Finally they loaded up and moved to the Arlington Cemetery, where they witnessed the fabulous Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Wyman and Billy were impressed with the inspection of the relief guard.
With no time for lollygagging around, they loaded back on the bus and headed back to the airport, where they had an awe-inspiring sendoff by a jazz band playing “Bye, Bye, Blackbird.” As they unloaded, they were hugged, kissed and danced with by American citizens thankful for our veterans.
By 7:30 p.m. they were back in Gulfport, where they were once again greeted by thousands of spectators who all wanted to shake hands, give hugs and kisses. As they made their way out of the terminal, Wyman was interviewed by a Gulfport TV station, which was aired, and they were both mentioned in The Sun Herald as saying the trip was pretty awesome.
Billy laughingly said that when all was said and done, they wound up walking from the airport back to the hotel because the shuttle had left without them. This is pretty good for an 88-year-old World War II vet and a 63-year-old Vietnam War vet.
Wyman said he was drafted by Uncle Sam but he got to volunteer for the U.S. Marine Corps, which happened back on July 7, 1943. He did his boot camp in San Diego, Calif.; then was relocated to Camp Elliot, Calif., for more training and was placed in Special Services. He was there from September 1943 until he was placed in a combat training unit and was promoted to corporal.
He stayed with this unit until July 1945. They were headed to Japan but stopped in Hawaii, transferred to another ship and headed to Guam. From there he went on to Peking, China, which is now Beijing, China. He served as company clerk or as a projectionist for the service until July 1945. He had been promoted to sergeant in January 1945.
After he returned to the USA, more specifically the Great Lakes Marine Discharge, he was mustered out on Aug. 18, 1946. He attended Wood College and Mississippi State University, where he joined the ROTC and was graduated a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve. After four years in the reserve he was promoted to first lieutenant.
Until retirement, he worked for Swift and Co., the state Highway Department and Mississippi Regional Housing. During this time he also operated an insurance office in Maben.
Billy joined the Third Marine Corps Rifle Co. in June 1968. He did his basic training at Parris Island, S.C., and his advanced infantry training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. From there he was sent to Camp Pendleton, Calif., for jungle warfare training. He served in Vietnam from December 1968 until October 1969.
Usually a tour is 12 months and 20 days, but President Nixon was withdrawing troops at this time so Billy only served 10 months. After his stint with the service, Billy worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years before he retired for a “Life of Riley.”