Manila veteran joins Honor Tour
Frank Byrd of Manila was honored and humbled to be part of the three day Honor Tour to Washington, D.C., for veterans. He was one of 28 veterans making the tour in November.
Byrd joined the Army at the age of 17 in 1954. He went to Korea in October 1955 and came back to the States in February 1957. After the service, he returned to Manila where he attended Arkansas State University and received a masters degree and taught school for 28 years.
The first Honor Tour originated in 2007 in Poplar Bluff, Mo., through the efforts of veteran Rob Callahan, his wife Donna, daughter of a World War II veteran, and former Manila resident, Tucker Davis. Callahan and Davis work together at the First Midwest Bank where Callahan serves as travel coordinator for Gold Club members and Davis is senior vice president.
"There are no words to describe the treatment and respect we received on the Honor Tour," Byrd said.
Byrd said World War II veterans get priority for the Honor Tour trips and if there are slots available, they can be filled with Korean veterans. If for any reason veterans on the list can't make the trip when called, their name will remain on the list for another opportunity for future Honor Tours.
There is a waiting list for the all-expense trip for veterans. The trips are funded through donations. Byrd said he would recommend veterans interested in the trip to get on the list. For more information, they can contact Davis at TDavis@1midwest.com.
"The trip was such an honor from start to finish," Byrd said. "We received the VIP treatment."
The group started the tour loading onto a bus in West Plaines, Mo. From the start, they received an escort of police officers and firefighters.
"Throughout much of the tour we had motorcycle escorts. Some of the riders were Vietnam veterans. We traveled by bus from West Plaines to Farmington High School," Byrd said. "The school has a Junior Air Force ROTC which presented the colors. We were honored guests at an assembly held at the high school."
Guest speakers included Rob Callhan, Mit Landrum, Jason Smith and Doug Libla.
The group left Farmington High School and again had a motorcycle escort to the airport in St. Louis.
"We arrived at the airport, our bags were taken care of, a group of veterans were there to welcome us and people throughout the airport stood and thanked us for our service as we went through the airport," Byrd said. "When veterans came home from Vietnam people were not so kind to them. This made up for the reception they once received."
The oldest veteran on the November Honor Tour was 93. Byrd said he was from Jonesboro and was accompanied by his daughter.
The group flew from St. Louis to Washington, D.C.
"We were picked up at the airport and taken to the hotel where we enjoyed a nice dinner," Byrd said. "We started early on Saturday morning with breakfast before boarding the bus. Our guide really knew the history of the area. We were escorted by the President's escort. The traffic stopped to let us through as we traveled through the city."
Byrd said the World War II Memorial was the first stop. Colin Powell and Bob Dole and his wife greeted the veterans. Among other sites the group visited were the Korean War Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Iwo Jima Monument, Kennedy's Eternal Flame, the Vietnam Memorial Wall and others. They also viewed the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. They also had a good view of the White House as they drove by.
Byrd said on the Vietnam Wall he found the name of Manila veteran Garvin Dill. He etched his name to bring home.
The veterans received a flag flown over the Capitol and a historic book from each era of their service, along with a veteran's cap. Along with the souvenirs, they brought home memories of a trip second to none.
They had breakfast before the bus trip back to the airport on Sunday morning and found themselves in a traffic jam.
"I thought we would never be on time for our flight when I saw the traffic backed up for at least a mile," Byrd said. "Rob Callahan got out and talked to an officer. A motorcycle got in front and they began to back up vehicles and let us through. We made it to the airport on time."
Mr. Byrd said from start to finish, the trip was truly beyond words.
"Mr. Callahan was quick to let us all know it was not his tour, but the Lord's tour," Byrd said.
Through his service and family ties, Byrd has traveled to Japan, Korea and Germany, but he said the Honor Tour was a special trip.
"I have never seen so much patriotism expressed," Bryd said.
The group enjoyed an after trip get-together on Dec. 3 in Dexter, Mo., where they were each given a DVD of the trip.
The November trip was the 12th Honor Tour organized by Callahan and Davis since the first tour in 2007.
Davis said he talks to civic organizations about the project and helps with the fund raising. Each tour costs approximately $28,000. Approximatley 400 veterans have been part of the Honor Tour. Primarily veterans from Southeast Missouri and Northeast Arkansas make up the tour but they have had veterans join them. Most of them are natives of the area.
Davis said Mr. Callahan's overall vision is to continue the tours and eventually add veterans from the Vietnam era.
Davis said General Powell and former Senator Bob Dole greet the group when they are available. Every tour is a little different.
There are a few other tours similar to the Honor Tour but most charter a plane and go for a day. The three day Honor Tour gives the veterans a little more time to visit the sights.