October 31, 2012 Edition

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Frank Wilcoxson (right) of Walnut Ridge receives a hero's welcome from a member of the Air Force at the World War II monument in Washington, D.C. Wilcoxson also served in the Air Force.

Wilcoxson treated to hero's
weekend D.C. Honor Tour

John Bland

Frank Wilcoxson of Walnut Ridge has experienced a weekend fit for a hero. A Korean War veteran, Wilcoxson was privileged to be part of an Oct. 19-21 Honor Tour to Washington, D.C.

The Honor Tour, based out of Poplar Bluff, Mo., included 23 World War II veterans and Wilcoxson. Tucker Davis, who is married to Frank and Maggie Wilcoxson's youngest daughter, Suzanne, is instrumental in coordinating the Honor Tours.

Davis works with Rob Callahan, founder of the Honor Tour, at First Midwest Bank in Poplar Bluff. This tour marked the 11th Honor Tour since the first tour was held in 2007. The tour is an expense-paid trip for the veterans.

"It was a great weekend," Wilcoxson said. "I saw so much and did so much. I had never been on a tour like this of Washington."

"At the airport and wherever we went, people would stand, clap their hands and say 'thank you for serving.'"

Davis noted that the Honor Tour is recognized wherever it goes, with bagpipers leading the groups through the airport, the group being announced on the airplane and military personnel greeting them at the monuments.

"A lot of them (WWII veterans) didn't make it back," said Wilcoxson, noting that stars on the WWII monument mark the some 400,000 U.S. soldiers killed in the war.

In fact, some of the WWII veterans who signed up for the Honor Tour died before they could make the trip, and one of the veterans on the trip died a few days after returning.

The next Honor Tour in April will include a larger mix of WWII and Korean veterans, Callahan told the Daily American Republic in Poplar Bluff.

Callahan serves as the First Midwest Bank's travel coordinator. He felt compelled to take veterans to see the WWII monument, which took 60 years to become a reality. He and Davis seek financial support from civic groups, such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions, and others for the Honor Tours. "We've spoken all over," Davis said.

"People have been awesome, and our bank has been incredible in its support of the tours," he added.

"We treat them like rock stars," Davis said of the veterans on the Honor Tour, which includes exceptional hotels and meals.

Davis, who has been on 10 of the 11 Honor Tours, said he is always caught off-guard by the emotional impact of the veterans and the Honor Tour. One such moment was when a school group was visiting the Marine Corps War Memorial. The Honor Tour came up and the students saw real, live veterans who actually fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

"If nothing else, it helps connect the generations," Davis said, explaining that it giving the younger generations an understanding of the sacrifices of the war veterans.

The Honor Tour began on a Friday morning with a patriotic send-off, including cheerleader escorts, at Poplar Bluff High School. Students were shown video footage of the Honor Tour during advisory classes prior to the assembly, as requested by Davis, according to a story posted on the Poplar Bluff School's website.

After the send-off, the group was bused to St. Louis, where they flew on to Washington.

They toured many of the monuments and historic sites, such as Arlington National Cemetery, the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon and more.

Wilcoxson was a first lieutenant in the Air Force, serving from 1950 to 1956.

"It's just something I'll never forget," Wilcoxson said.

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