Flight of Honor for Auburn World War II veteran
Seventy years ago, Auburn’s Tom Osborn was 18, still in high school, and preparing to go to war.
He joined the Navy after graduating from school in Tilden, Neb. By Christmas Day, 1943, he was onboard a liberty ship bound for the Marshall Islands.
Osborn spent the rest of World War II aboard a minesweeper, doing his part in an effort against tyranny that spanned much of the globe.
Seventy years later, Osborn joined a planeload of World War II veterans who were treated to an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. During the mid-October journey, Osborn joined fellow Placer county residents Charlie Gray and Richard Osgood as the non-profit Honor Flight Network took veterans on a tour of the nation’s capital and to the National World War II Memorial.
Osborn said that veterans felt honored even before they arrived at Dulles Airport in D.C. Aboard the plane, eight trained Honor Flight “guardians” catered to participating veterans’ needs.
“When we arrived we went through two rows of people along the way thanking us,” Osborn said. “It was kind of embarrassing but really nice.”
Osborn and the other veterans were taking part in a program that required them only to pay for transportation to the San Francisco airport. A Virgin America airplane flew the group to Washington and back. Accommodations, meals and ground transportation were part of a program to honor veterans.
Osborn is one of hundreds of veterans who have taken the flights. The waiting list is currently 5,000 for the nationwide program. With no corporate or government sponsorship, the organization receives funding from individual donations as well as organizations like local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars branches.
Osborn said that several veterans reacted emotionally to visits to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and other locations. The 18-year Auburn resident said the Tomb of the Unknowns was also a place where he observed a few veterans tearing up.
For Osborn, the journey back into his wartime past was also a chance to honor all who served in one capacity or another.
“The U.S.A. is an amazing country,” Osborn said. “We were asleep in December 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. But with the war in Europe, the country mobilized, it seemed, overnight, with civilians producing the needs of our armed forces. It’s unbelievable we could fight enemy forces across both oceans at the same time and win.”
Osborn said that he remains personally thankful for the total effort that took place.
“A total of 1,200 veterans and civilians from the World War II era are passing away each day,” Osborn said. “I want to thank each of them for their service.”
Osborn drove his family out to the Bay Area from Tilden in the late spring of 1943 to be with his father, who had started work at a shipyard. Then he started training to go overseas. As a crew member on a minesweeper, the closest he came to combat was 300 miles away.
“But I saw a lot of the results of combat,” Osborn said. “I don’t miss those days. The South Pacific would have been a beautiful place if it wasn’t for the fighting.”
Dennis Kocher, a friend of Osborn’s and a Vietnam veteran, said that the former sailor arrived back in Auburn “with a bright light in his eyes.”
“He felt his commitment to his country was appreciated and honored,” Kocher said.