Conway eighth-grader to be companion on Honor Flight with area veterans

spalisin@thesunnews.comAugust 25, 2013 

Julia Crafton of Conway, right, meets John Atkinson Jr., a World War II Air Force veteran from Marion, with her mother, Melba Hasty, at an Honor Flight Grand Strand/Myrtle Beach orientation Aug. 14 at the Myrtle Beach Base Recreation Center.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MONTY LEE

  • Honor Flight Grand Strand/Myrtle Beach

    What | The sixth day trip since 2010 for World War II-era veterans and accompanying guardian sponsors

    When | Wednesday, with a full, chartered jet, including 73 veterans

    Where | Round trip from Myrtle Beach International Airport to the major war memorials in Washington, D.C.

    How much | Free for World War II-era and all terminally ill veterans, then if space permits, Korean and Vietnam-era veterans; accompanying guardian sponsors pay a donation to fly.

    Next excursion | Plans under way, with hopes for spring

    Information | 957-8212 or www.honorflightmyrtlebeach.com

    Also | World War II registry: www.wwiimemorial.com/default.asp?page=registry.asp&subpage=intro

A Conway Middle School eighth-grader will receive a U.S. and world history lesson first-hand Wednesday from a field trip up and down the East Coast.

Julia Crafton, a 13-year-old from Conway, was invited to the join World War II-era veterans aboard Honor Flight Grand Strand/Myrtle Beach for its sixth day trip to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C. This whole opportunity took off from a school project from a month and a half this past spring with a letter written to help raise money for Honor Flight, which spends about $60,000 per excursion, chartering a plane and all.

Julia said Alysha Cieniewicz, substituting for her then-seventh-grade social studies teacher, Jay Wilburn, encouraged her in this pursuit and that she also is accompanying a veteran on this flight.

Julia met her travel companion at an orientation meeting Aug. 14 for the whole traveling entourage: John Atkinson Jr. from Marion, who served in the U.S. Air Force.

Julia and her mother, Melba Hasty, saluted everyone in the community who chipped in for what became a $300 gift to the cause. Both shared some sentiments ahead of the flight this week, for which a happy mother will be there to see Julia and the entourage off from Myrtle Beach International Airport and welcome them back.

Bill Krzyk of Surfside Beach, coordinator and marketing volunteer for Honor Flight Grand Strand/Myrtle Beach, said this trip also marks another milestone, exceeding 500 veterans who have signed up since 2010 for this experience, which many people could view the ultimate way of thanking personnel for their service – and possible sacrifice of life – for being ready in times of war decades ago.

Question | Will this be your first time visiting our nation’s capital?

Julia | Yes, and this will be my first time on a plane.

Q. | Carrying out this school project, what was the most challenging part, besides fundraising?

Julia | Maybe trying to write the letter ... and finding exactly what to say. ... My letter was between 2 and 21/2 pages long. ... We went around my neighborhood and asked for donations. Some people were quite familiar with Honor Flight. Also, teachers and students came and donated.

Q. | Two weeks ago, meeting Mr. Atkinson, your partner for the day at the flight orientation, do you think this trip might even be more memorable for you than for him, traveling among all those honorees and guardians?

Julia | Oh, yeah. ... They were shocked to see me there. ... I had so many thank me. They had no need to thank me. But just the fact they had smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes ... they were all so hilarious.

Q. | Is there one memorial you’re most eager to see?

Julia | We will get to lay out a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery. I think I really want to see that the most. It will be quite tear-jerking at every memorial. I wasn’t even expecting to be on the flight; I just wanted to help them get there.

Q. | What’s the most interesting tidbit about World War II that you’ve learned that hasn’t been covered in a textbook or a class?

Julia | Just all the things in the world that have been left behind, and some of the people who weren’t recognized when they came back.

Q. | What steps will come to play to keep World War II as an integral piece of the U.S. history curriculum in years and decades to come?

Julia | With World War II, we skimmed over it quite frequently; it was never as a full lesson. ... We need this so kids know that this is one of the wars that gave us our freedom.

Q. | Long after this trip, when you return to our nation’s capital, what do you think you will tell your own children or traveling companions since your first time in town with Mr. Atkinson?

Julia | I probably will tell my kids and I want them to do the same thing I had done, and I want them to have a pure heart, so they’re wanting to help out other people, not just them.

Mother’s joy to see

Julia’s mother also was touched by this project and the response.

Q. | How much have you seen your daughter grow with her immersion in this project to help Honor Flight?

Hasty | Her letter was amazing. She took it on as her own. ... She walked around the neighborhood herself, and she collected almost $70 just there. ... I’m just really proud, and I hope she keeps thinking in these lines and that other kids will see what she’s doing, how she’s making a difference, and inspire others to do the same.

Q. | What have you learned about World War II through Julia’s extracurricular interest that’s new to you?

Hasty | I’m just amazed about it. She has said if it wasn’t for those men, we wouldn’t be here today, and she’s exactly right.

Q. | How has handling of the history of World War II since you were in school changed with time?

Hasty | When I was in school, that was the subject; nowadays, it’s not talked about enough. I wish more teachers would promote it, so if we had other students at Julia’s age to get involved and make a difference ...

Q. | What was Julia’s reaction upon learning of her invitation as a special guest for this flight?

Hasty | She was just so thrilled. She almost wanted to get teared up, but she held it all together.

Q. | What’s going to be the first thing you ask when Julia returns Wednesday night in the terminal?

Hasty | Probably “How was her flight?” because I’m more nervous than she is, for her first flight. But she said, “Mom, if those men can go out and get my freedom, them I can go on the flight with them.” ...

I will be there to drop her off, and I will be there to welcome her and the men home.

Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.

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