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Esky vet lays wreath on Tomb of the Unknowns

September 29, 2012
By Renee Prusi - Staff Writer , Marquette Mining Journal

WASHINGTON, D.C. - World War II veteran Betrum Doutree of Escanaba smiled when asked about a task awarded to him during Thursday's Upper Peninsula Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

U.S. Army artillery veteran Doutree was selected to participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery along with fellow veterans Frank Fogle of Marquette; Jerry Gauthier of Iron Mountain; and Robert Winton of Quinnesec.

"It was an absolute privilege to be able to do that," Doutree said. "Arlington is a pretty nice place to be able to honor other veterans."

Indeed, the solemn ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns was a highlight of this third visit to the nation's capital made by a group from the U.P., this time nearly fourscore veterans making the journey. The first "mission" was in September 2011 and the second in April 2012.

"We're planning another trip for next spring," said Barb VanRooy, Honor Flight coordinator. "We already have a waiting list started for that."

Fundraising for the spring 2013 flight will start soon. The Honor Flight trip is offered to WWII veterans at no cost to them. Each veteran is paired with a guardian who pays to make the journey and sees to the veteran's needs during a busy, history-filled one-day trip to Washington.

Honor Flights take place from many parts of the nation, all with the intent of giving as many WWII veterans as possible the chance to see the World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004.

After departing the Delta County Airport in Escanaba at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, the U.P. Honor Flight not only visited the WWII Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknowns, but also the Korea, Vietnam, Lincoln and Marine Corps memorials as well as taking a bus tour of the city. The bus tour included a police escort, meaning the group didn't have to stop for red lights as they made their way around the busy city.

For the first time, some of the group visited the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. The U.P. Honor Flight included five women WWII veterans this time around and they and some of the male veterans opted to visit that landmark instead of visiting the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Augusta Houser of Iron River was one of the five female WWII veterans. She served in the Women's Army Corps during the Second World War and said this special women's memorial was something discussed as early as 1950, when the first WAC alumni association formed.

"I think it's fine," she said after spending time at the museum. "It took a long time to get it and I think they've done a good job with it."

In the course of touring the first stop of the day at the World War II Memorial, the U.P. veterans were greeted by both of their U.S. senators, Debbie Stabenow, D-Ann Arbor, and Carl Levin, D-Detroit, who chatted with the vets and had photos taken.

"It is always a great privilege to honor Michigan's brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our country," Stabenow said. "The mission of the Honor Flight Network is a fitting tribute to our veterans, giving them an opportunity to see their memorials firsthand. We owe all of our veterans our unwavering support."

Levin said: "I know it was a moving visit for our U.P. vets to be at the World War II Memorial. The memorial recognizes their service to our country and the world, and it was a privilege to be with them as they saw the expression of our nation's gratitude."

Due to a lightning storm, the U.P. Honor Flight returned to Escanaba two hours late, not arriving until 11:30 p.m. Thursday, but still, hundreds of people lined the tarmac in the 30-some-degree weather to greet the veterans on their return. Included in the group was U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, D-Crystal Falls, who shook the veterans' hands as they disembarked from the plane after a long, but exhilarating day spent in Washington.



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