Amherst resident Tom Richards operated a service station on Kenmore Avenue for 24 years, then worked as a high school custodian, home improvement clerk and auto parts employee. These days, you’ll find him teaching stained glass classes at the Amherst Senior Center.
But before all that he was a gunner’s mate in the Navy during World War II, part of a contingent of divers who fished bodies and wreckage out of Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attacks before serving on a tugboat fleet in the Pacific Theater.
Yet despite four years of active duty service, from 1942 to 1946, Richards never saw the national World War II Memorial – or many of the other monuments that have been erected in Washington, D.C., over the last 60 years.
Thanks to Honor Flight Buffalo, however, Richards finally got his chance on Oct. 13. He traveled with two dozen other World War II veterans, free of charge, to Washington, D.C., and wants other people to be given the same opportunity.
“I don’t have a word to explain it,” said Richards, 89. “It was so terrific.”
As a thank you for the opportunity given to Richards, the Amherst Senior Center will host a bake sale Wednesday, with all proceeds to go to Honor Flight Buffalo. The charity’s mission is to fly America’s veterans free of charge – with World War II vets taking priority – to D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to honor their sacrifices.
“Hopefully, what we’re donating will go to help support other veterans that want to go,” said Melissa Abel, director of programs for the Amherst Senior Center.
On Nov. 9, Richards also will offer his reflections on his Honor Flight experience as part of the Veterans Day program planned at the center, at 370 John James Audubon Parkway. That’s fitting since Richards, a senior center member and active volunteer, first learned about Honor Flight through a presentation held there.
From the moment he arrived at Buffalo Niagara International Airport with his daughter to the moment he returned home, he said, he was overwhelmed by the reception he received. He also was amazed to once again be in the company of fellow soldiers from that long-ago war.
Richards, one of the fittest of the group, said many of his fellow veterans needed the assistance of canes, walkers and wheelchairs, but they were all glad to be making the trip.
“We kind of looked at one another and shook hands,” he said, “thankful that we were still there.”
Richards had not been to Washington since the 1950s, before most of the war memorials that exist now were built. At the World War II Memorial, he said, he was most struck by the wall of 4,048 gold stars that pay tribute to the sacrifice of more than 405,000 American lives. “What an impressive thing that was,” he said.
When he finally returned to the Buffalo airport after the one-day visit, he was greeted by his own Senior Center singing group, the Amherst Senior Singers. They sang “God Bless America” to the returning Honor Flight group, and Richards joined them.
A detailed story on the Oct. 13 Honor Flight Buffalo trip will run in The Buffalo News Spotlight section on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. email: firstname.lastname@example.org