Two St. Joseph County veterans to take Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C.

Two St. Joseph County veterans, Ron Kelly and Jerry Wright, will participate in the Talons Out Honor Flight to Washington, DC on Saturday, April 23.

Honor Flights give veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam complimentary day trips to the nation’s capital to see their monuments and other important sites. The public is invited to the homecoming ceremony, planned for that evening at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for sign making, with veteran arrival around 9:30 p.m.

Ron Kelly holds a photo of himself from his Navy days, as well as a scrapbook of military pictures crafted by Violet Kelly, his wife of nearly 53 years. The two open pages feature his ship, the USS Hopewell.
Ron Kelly holds a photo of himself from his Navy days, as well as a scrapbook of military pictures crafted by Violet Kelly, his wife of nearly 53 years. The two open pages feature his ship, the USS Hopewell.

Kelly, of Three Rivers, joined the naval reserves during his junior year of high school. Following graduation in 1965, he became active duty military and shipped out of San Diego, California for Vietnam on the destroyer USS Hopewell, DD 681.

His role for the next two years was that of the boilerman – controlling the fire for the boilers and performing maintenance on them.

“It was a dirty, hot job – in a tropical zone standing between two boilers,” he said.

Returning to the States, he worked in a factory, then in the iron mines of Upper Michigan, and ultimately spent 30 years in the heating and cooling industry. Now, he enjoys travel and fishing.

“I grew up a lot with it (being in the Navy),” he said. “I learned a lot. It wasn’t something I wanted to make a career of, but I have no regrets.”

Kelly’s father also served in the military, as a tail gunner on a B-17 during World War II. While on his 18th mission, he became a German prisoner of war and spent 445 days in a POW camp.

Jerry Wright, who served in the Army, describes himself as a “very patriotic guy.”
Jerry Wright, who served in the Army, describes himself as a “very patriotic guy.”

Wright, who spent two years on active duty from 1958-60, said being selected for the flight was a real honor.

“I’m a very patriotic guy,” the Three Rivers resident said. “My military service was many years ago, but it meant a lot to me.”

Nearly six and a half decades ago, he was serving in the National Guard when the draft began and his number came up.

“I didn’t want to go,” he said.

However, he looks back with gratitude on that time.

“I was glad I got drafted because it matured me,” he said. “I realized what the Army was all about.”

While in the National Guard at Camp Grayling, he rode in tanks; once he entered basic training, he was assigned to a military police unit in Fort Bliss, Texas, with a nearly extinct radar program. There, he became an operations clerk and drove a Jeep.

As part of the Strategic Air Command, they were on alert to be taken to Germany “because the Berlin Wall was a big deal,” he said. While they only had two alerts during that time — and neither resulted in an overseas journey — each one meant packing up everything from the kitchen to personal gear, loading it on trucks and taking it to the airport.

After Wright’s active duty was over, he returned to the National Guard and became part of the Army Reserve. And he pursued his dream of an arts career, traveling to California and New York in the process.

Since then, he has had “numerous careers and avocations.”

His military appreciation came full-circle when he founded and for eight years directed the Great American Patriots Chorus in Three Rivers. The ensemble raised money for Disabled American Veterans, Wounded Warriors, and a variety of military causes.

“Many times I hear the Star Spangled Banner and it brings tears to my eyes,” he said.

For more information about Honor Flight, visit www.talonsouthonorflight.org.

This article originally appeared on Sturgis Journal: Two St. Joseph County veterans to take Honor Flight trip