“All you need to do is have a bag packed,” his son, Bill Thompson, told him.
Yet William worried. Bill stayed vague about the details until the day the couple was to leave; they were surprised and delighted when it was Bill who showed up to accompany them to the airport and then to Washington.
The trip, sponsored by the Gordon County Republican Party, took place in early October and was part of the Honor Flight Program, which helps WWII veterans visit their monument, which was completed in 2004.
The Thompsons, of Calhoun, were joined by Jorge Mazariegos, another local WWII veteran who resides in Ranger. Mazariegos had a special surprise awaiting him, as well.
When the group reached the capitol, he was greeted by his son, Charles Mazariegos, a Vietnam veteran, and his grandson (Charles’ nephew), also named Jorge Mazariegos, who is currently serving in the Special Forces.
“They surprised the heck out of me,” the elder Jorge said, remembering stepping off a bus and seeing his loved ones.
The Honor Flight endeavor began in 2005, when Earl Morse, a VA physicians assistant and retired Airforce captain wanted to do something special for the veterans he had cared for.
According to the Honor Flight website, www.honorflight.org, Morse, a private pilot, recruited 11 other pilots to fly 12 WWII veterans from Ohio to Washington D.C. to see their memorial.
Morse was able to partner with US Airways to fly more and more WWII veterans to the nation’s capitol; the endeavor began to spread to other areas of the country, and the Honor Flight Network was born.
By the end of 2009, HFN had transported more than 35,000 veterans to see the WWII memorial at no cost to the veterans, the website states.
The idea for William and Jorge to make the trip first came from Jim Franklin, a local retired Army colonel
“It was beautiful,” Jorge said of the monument. “Thank God that I was able to see it. A lot of vets never get to see it.”
The Calhoun veterans and their family members, joined a larger group of WWII veterans on a tour that included the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Iwo Jima Memorial, and the Women’s Army Corps Memorial.
Charles, a Vietnam veteran himself, said seeing the WWII memorial was an emotional experience for his father. “(I) had to leave him alone … he had to walk it and look at it (by himself),” Charles said.
“It was the most marvelous trip I’ve ever had ... It was just a sharp bunch of people,” Ouida said of the gathered veterans, the youngest of whom was 84. “It was just something you don’t forget.”
Charles echoed her sentiments.
“It was great seeing all those WWII vets,” he said, recalling the way the veterans saluted each other in greeting. “You could see them fighting the tears.”
William Thompson was just 20 years old when he journeyed overseas in 1943 to fight in WWII. He was a PFC in the infantry when he went into combat. His company went into its first day of battle in Gros-Rederching near Alsace Lorraine.
Twenty-three soldiers lost their lives; 79 were wounded; 16 were captured.
Among the dead was Thompson’s close friend PFC Harry Gary; that loss is something Thompson still remembers sharply.
“He was a wonderful boy,” he said, recalling his friend.
The young soldier, now experienced in combat, journeyed from there to the Ardennes Mountains region where the Battle of the Bulge was raging near the France/ Belgium/ Germany border.
He ended up with frozen feet after 10 days of fighting and was sent to a hospital in England, with a detour through Luxembourg, France.
He spent six weeks in the hospital and not long after, as the war was waning, he was sent home to the states.
He and his wife, Ouida, met in Atlanta in the late 1940s, but they did not marry until 1956.
In the meantime, William spent six years in medical school on the GI Bill.
“(There is) no way to get married in med school,” he explained.
Many people know William as Dr. Thompson from the 40-plus years he spent seeing patients at the practice he ran with two other doctors.
The young man who journeyed halfway around the world from his birthplace in Fairmount to fight in the largest war in history brought his life full circle when he settled back in Calhoun to practice medicine and raise a family.
William, who is 88 now, sold his practice to Floyd Medical Center just over 10 years ago, his son, Bill Thompson, said. The office still stands near the old hospital.
When 12-year-old Jorge Mazariegos’ family moved to the United States from Guatemala, the country was in the throes of the Great Depression; it was 1936.
Just seven years later, Mazariegos found himself in the U.S. Army on a ship that set out from San Francisco, and 32 days later left him at his station in the Philippines. It was the first time he had seen the ocean.
The Philippines was overrun with Japanese troops, and Mazariegos, a gunner who served with the 24th infantry division, 52nd artillery battalion, said he “had to be alert 24 hours a day.”
He would serve there nearly three years during WWII.
Training before deployment at Fort Sill, Okla., brought another new experience: snow. Mazariegos recalls sleeping in a pup tent in freezing temperatures: “Let me tell you, it was cold,” he said.
As the war raged on, the young Mazariegos, thousands of miles from home, found a special connection with his fellow troops that he still remembers today.
“The brotherhood that developed there is … something unique,” he explained. “You never find that anywhere else.”
Over the years, he has devoted time to veteran’s organizations like the American Legion — he has been a member since 1946, and the VFW — he is a post chaplain.
He worked from 1952 to 1990 at the same furniture company in Houston, Texas where he learned the trade of making drapery and upholstery. His work sent him to places like Vail, Colo, Peurto Rico and Lake Tahoe, Nev.
He met “a pretty girl from Mission, Texas,” Leonor, who is now his wife of 67 years; together they raised three sons.
The two settled in Ranger in 1990; despite all he had seen in his life, Jorge’s first sight of Fairmount left an impression.
“I thought I was going to die! I had never seen anything so small, so quiet,” he said.
Jorge was able to finish high school when he returned from the war, and he watched as America pieced itself back together again.
“We rebuilt this country, because we were in bad, bad shape,” he said. “Like Tom Brokaw says (in “The Greatest Generation”), we saved the world.”