Ask wartime veterans to list what their favorite times were while in the service and they will probably all place “Mail Call” in the top two or three. Ask any of the veterans on the recent Clinton County Honor Flight what their favorite things on the trip were, and most will also list “Mail Call” up near the top.
After 19 hours of travel and visiting the many monuments, memorials, and Arlington Cemetery, most of the veterans were just happy to be sitting down on the plane to maybe sneak a little nap before landing in Dayton. However, the staff of Honor Flight Dayton had a much different plan.
A very loud announcement of “Mail Call!” aroused everyone on board. The staff and volunteers then began to pass out large manila envelopes to each veteran. Inside the envelope were letters and cards from family, friends and strangers, including grade-school students. As the flight continued, the plane was quiet except for some muffled murmurings as the veterans shared what they had received with each other.
The Honor Flight “Mail Call” experience was no different for Roger Dedrick of Wilmington. After some much-needed sleep and relaxation, he revisited his large envelope. As he went through the cards and letters again, he kept returning to the letters from Mrs. Campbell’s third-grade class at Holmes Elementary and sharing them with his wife, Patricia.
He read the letters aloud, paying special attention to the ones that contained an invitation to visit their class, the letter that boldly stated, “I wish I could hug you”, and the student that wrote, “I wish I could meet you.” Finally, after listening to him for a while, she said, “Why don’t you tell them.”
Being a good husband, Roger followed his wife’s advice. He promptly went to the school and asked to speak with the principal, Mrs. Zeigler. Roger thought, “I’ll speak with her and she can ask Mrs Campbell to schedule a date when I can come back and spend a little time thanking the students and telling them all about my trip.”
After making his desire known, instead of taking his contact information, she immeditely escorted him down the hall to Mrs. Campbell, who was standing just outside her classroom. Mrs. Zeigler relayed Roger’s request and Mrs. Campbell said, “There’s my whole class right over there. You can speak to them now.”
Totally unprepared to speak, he followed her in, she introduced him and left him to his own devices. Mr. Dedrick gave a short impromptu talk about Honor Flight, his experiences, his time in the U.S. Navy and the real reason he was there — to say, “Thank you.” Then it was Q&A time.
The students were already well-informed about Honor Flight and Washington, D.C., which made some of the questions “unbelievably well thought out”, but “most were general in nature”, according to Mr. Dedrick.
When asked if he had any questions that were particularly funny, interesting, or totally off the message, he recalled one student asking, “What is retired?” Roger responded, “That’s when you reach a certain age and you don’t have to do your job anymore.” The student followed up with: “Are you going home and sit down?” To which he answered with an unequivocal, “No.”
Mr. Dedrick summed up his trip to Holmes Elementary and Mrs. Campbell’s class by saying, “I had a ball — a lot of fun” and “The kids in her class are great. I really appreciated their letters and I am hanging on to all of them.”