The Denton High School Air Force Junior ROTC is leading an effort to send two World War II veterans to Washington, D.C.
Starting Nov. 1, students in the Denton High Air Force Junior ROTC, a citizenship program, will collect change in ammo boxes placed in locations around campus, such as the cafeteria, field house, classrooms and front office.
The donations will go to Honor Flight DFW to fund trips for two North Texas military veterans to the National World War II Memorial and other historic sites in the nation’s capital. Honor Flight DFW is a nonprofit organization that takes veterans to Washington to see their memorials and meet with other veterans.
Donations will be collected through Nov. 15, and the cadets are urging not only their peers but also the community to participate.
To get the word out about their efforts, the group intends to do school announcements and discuss World War II in classes, what those veterans’ sacrifices mean and how people can give back to them.
“These veterans gave their all just so we can live our lives the way we live it,” said Marvin Cardona, a Denton High senior who is group commander for the school’s Air Force Junior ROTC and oversees the cadet corps. “I think it’s extremely important for everyone to say thank you to these veterans that sacrificed their lives for us.”
Discussions of fundraising efforts began in the summer. Cardona said cadets were presented with the idea and asked if it was something they would be interested in.
“We didn’t even hesitate” in agreeing to participate, Cardona said.
The group’s goal was to raise $1,000 to send one North Texas veteran to Washington. They began alerting school staff about their cause via e-mail and before they knew it, donations of $50, $100 and other amounts were flooding in. The cadets collected more than their intended goal of $1,000 — which they reached in the first 24 hours.
They now have a new goal — to collect at least $2,000 and send to Washington two veterans: Tom Carlisle, a World War II Merchant Marine veteran, and Bennie “Gabe” Snider, who graduated early from Denton High to enlist in the Navy.
Snider, 86, joined the Navy in 1944 and served two and a half years.
He served two of those years on the USS Hancock in the interior communications group, and he was part of invasions of Iwo Jima, the Philippines and other sites.
The ship was once hit by a Japanese kamikaze pilot, and some sailors were killed and buried at sea, he said.
“We had great people working together on the ship,” Snider said. “Everybody wanted to do their part to preserve our freedom.”
He said he looks forward to seeing the monument. Many of his shipmates have seen the memorial and have told him it was impressive.
“Hopefully [it’s] not just a tribute to the military but to the civilians back home, too,” Snider said. “It was a total 100 percent cooperation between military and civilians.”
Carlisle, 88, served in the Pacific Ocean as a radio officer for the Merchant Marines from 1944 to 1945. His ship, Lookout Mountain, armed with about 20 gunners, delivered fuel oil to military ships.
Only recently did Carlisle begin talking about his experience there, even with his children.
“That was my past life,” he said. “I enjoyed my time there, but that was a different time.”
One highlight of that time came during his shift in May 1945 when he heard radio traffic indicating the Germans had surrendered, and he was honored to deliver the news to the ship’s captain and others aboard.
After Japan surrendered in August, Carlisle took a leave of absence, and when he married, he did not want to return, he said.
“They called me to see if I would come back, and I said, ‘I have a new wife and if I go, she might not come back,’” he said. They were married nearly 61 years until she died in 2007.
Both Snider and Carlisle earned multiple medals for their service.
Carlisle said he is “excited like all get-out” about the trip and grateful to the students who are raising the money.
Each $1,000 pays for airfare, hotel accommodations, chartered bus fare, meals, uniforms, souvenir videos and a reunion event for the veteran upon returning.
Support received for the cause has been touching, said Hector Delgado, a Denton High senior and deputy group commander for the Air Force Junior ROTC.
After receiving a $500 donation from an anonymous donor, Delgado said he teared up.
“That one really touched me,” he said.
Some donations have come from people who have someone in their family who has served in the military.
Junior Ryan Konz, the operation squadron commander for the Junior ROTC group, said he likes knowing the money raised is sending World War II veterans to their national memorial.
Cardona said it’s been amazing to see people’s generosity in donating to someone they’ve never met.
“I can’t really put it into words,” he said. “It’s been like an emotional joy ride. It’s like one great thing after another.”
A check presentation for the trips and recognition of the two veterans being sponsored is slated for halftime ceremonies on Senior Night, Nov. 9, during Denton High’s football match versus Byron Nelson High School at Bronco Field.
Melaine “Tudy” Giordano, president of Honor Flight DFW, calls the Denton High cadets’ efforts “unbelievable.”
“We’ve had schools raise money before but not an ROTC group,” she said. “When they [the veterans] hear ROTC, it will mean a great deal to them.
“I’m in awe of the generosity of these kids. That’s something else. The old warriors will be very appreciative.”
A trip like this brings the veterans — most in their 80s and 90s — to life, Giordano said. The overnight trip includes visits to memorial sites across Washington.
It brings back memories, she said. Though proud of their accomplishments, the memorial and its dedication to the war effort, many veterans are very quiet when seeing the World War II Memorial, she said.
“Our flights give these men a chance to be men again,” Giordano said. “You can see the twinkle in their eye. They just come to life.”
For some, she said, it’s one of the last trips they’ll take in their lifetimes.
Through the DFW hub, Honor Flight has taken about 350 veterans to Washington, Giordano said — and that includes three trips this year that took a total of 125 veterans ages 84 to 99.
Trips are taken in the spring and fall, with six trips slated for 2013.
The fact that students are raising the funds is important to the veterans, she said.
“That means the world to them to know they’re not forgotten by the younger generation.”
Staff writer Matthew Zabel contributed to this report.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
HOW TO HELP
To donate or for more information on the program, contact Lt. Col. Robert West, Air Force Junior ROTC instructor at Denton High School, at 940-369-2142 or email@example.com .