Gulfport resident John E. “Jack” Botbyl, 92, a WWII Army veteran, reported for duty once again on Tuesday, September 26 for “Mission 31,” a day-long honor flight to Washington, D.C.
According to their website, the Honor Flight of West Central Florida has flown 2,408 war-era veterans to Washington, D.C. for free “to see the memorials built in their honor. It is our small way of saying thank you for saving the world from tyranny.”
Gigi Rinesh, his regular caregiver, served as his official guardian for the mission.
“She pushed me in a wheelchair all day,” he said. “I felt very sorry for her.”
But, when it came time to take the group’s photo, Botbyl stood up. Proud and honored to be there.
Botbyl was one of 75 servicemen and 75 guardians on the trip that, for him, began at 2 a.m. when he got up to shower and shave, he said.
“Gigi picked me up to go to the airport at 3 a.m. so we could be there by 4 a.m. for a flight that left at 8:15 a.m.,” he said. “It was a long and busy day.”
After landing, the group visited the Air Force Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. After a box lunch, they went to the Korean, Vietnam and Lincoln memorials. Then, it was time for touring the World War II Memorial.
Botbyl was drafted in 1942 just three days before his 18th birthday, which is on February 26. For three years, he served in combat as a machine gunner in General Douglas MacArthur’s Eighth Army, 43rd infantry division. His first action was in Guadalcanal in the South Pacific during the Allies’ first major offensive in the region against the island’s Japanese defenders.
Serving in the military is a family tradition.
His father fought in France in Word War I and his seven brothers also fought in the services in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Being on the honor flight was “one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had,” he said. “I must have gotten kissed 50 times!”
The highlight of the trip was at the end when he arrived back at Clearwater Airport at 8:30 p.m. He and Rinesh were the first to enter the concourse area.
“There were 1,000 people there!” he said. “We could see all the veterans from different wars. I thought that was great!”
Each veteran on the mission received a souvenir photo book of Washington, D.C. that includes details about each of the war memorials.
“I was the first to get it,” he said.