Roughly sixteen million Americans served in World War II, and with only a little more than two million alive today, 101 of these former soldiers from Middle Tennessee received a thank you for their patriotic efforts decades ago, when the Music City Honor Flight flew these remarkable men to the nation’s capitol last week, honoring their contribution to the land of the free and home of the brave.
These veterans, including 91-year-old Lloyd Driver, of Lafayette, only with his son, Richard Driver (a guardian), departed Nashville International Airport at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday May 8th, via non-stop charter flight to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, with breakfast served on board. During the day long visit to Washington D.C., which was sponsored and entirely paid for by the Music City Honor Flight, located in Nashville, Tn., thirty-three guardians escorted the vets, with several in wheelchair, to see the WWII Memorial, which was built in their honor, and to visit other sites as well.
The veterans also visited the Korean, Vietnam War and Memorials, the Air Force Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, tomb of the Unknown Soldier and observed the changing of the guard.
Widely considered a conflict like no other, veterans describe this human experience as gut wrenching and they thank God they are alive to tell about it, and Mr. Driver is certainly no exception.
Drafted in 1942, Driver was a soldier in the United States Army, and after basic training in Texas, he was transferred to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin during the winter of 1942/1943 getting ready to meet the Japanese in Alaska. But when that fell through he was shipped to northern Ireland, landing in Belfast, and from there he was sent to Newry to train for D-Day. Eight months later he boarded a ship in Wales heading for Normandy, France.
“When we neared Omaha Beach,” said Lloyd, who was a soldier in the 38th Infantry, 2nd Division “we could see the battle from our ship. We were suppose to go in first, but we didn’t have enough troops, so the 1st Division went in on June 6, 1944 and we went in on June 7th, D-Day Plus One, which I am sure saved my life.”
“We knew it was bad,” he commented, “and Fred Cothron and J.T. Smith, both of Macon County, stood beside me on the deck watching the endless exchange of gunfire.”
Twenty-two-year-old Driver was wounded on June 11th and was flown to London to recuperate, but he says that the only thing he really remembered before boarding the plane, was shaking the hand of General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“They sent me back to fight on the front line with the 2nd Division,” recalled Driver, “and I was actually hit two more times in December of 1944 and April of 1945. When you were in the infantry, you knew you were going to get hit, it was just a question of when.”
Driver, who also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, says by the grace of God his life was spared, and World War II ended on May 8, 1945, while he returned home when so many others paid the ultimate price.
Lloyd Driver was honorably discharged in September of 1945, and he was amazed at the emotional reunion of his seeing his comrades after all these years. “It was like being with family,” he said as tears pooled in his eyes, “and it was a wonderful day, that I will always remember.”
Added Richard, “It was an honor to be with all the World War II veterans, and a blessing to be with my Dad. They were like a bunch of kids and they were extremely happy to be together once again. They were treated with the utmost respect and folks everywhere were shaking their hands and thanking them for their service to the United States of America. It was a good day, yep it was definitely a good day!”
When Tom Brokaw coined the phrase “The Greatest Generation” to describe those Americans who grew up during the Great Depression and went off to fight in World War II, he knew exactly what he was talking about, because we certainly owe all these wonderful gentlemen a large debt of gratitude. They will never be forgotten.