World War II vets looking forward to get-together at Chase Field

Honor Flight Arizona is a local nonprofit that pays to travel World War II veterans to their memorials in Washington, D.C.

Navy veteran Ken Caraway served on a tanker during World War II, fueling mine sweeps. He remembers going ashore at Hiroshima, Japan, not long after they dropped the bomb.

He remembers the nearly complete destruction and the frightening tour of the few buildings still standing, including an area hospital — "so many people in the hospital, some of them turning green from the radiation," he says.

He remembers the horror of war, but he also remembers a time when everyone pulled together for a common purpose, "when we all helped one another."

And thanks to groups like Honor Flight Arizona, he understands that while things are very different today, there’s still some common ground that we share.

Honor Flight Arizona is a local nonprofit organization that is part of the Honor Flight Network, created to honor America’s World War II veterans for all their sacrifices. Throughout the year, Honor Flight Arizona pays to travel these heroes to Washington, D.C., to reflect and be honored at their memorials.

The Diamondbacks and FOX Sports Arizona are teaming up to bring recognition to Honor Flight Arizona at Monday’s Memorial Day game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres. Fourty-two veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War will be transported to Chase Field in a pair of FOX Sports Arizona Fan Express buses. They will watch the game in a suite provided by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and FOX Sports Arizona will share their stories to the viewing audience via interviews during both the pregame show and game coverage.

Carraker, 89, of Sun City will be one of the 42, as will his friend Hal Whitaker, 85, of Sun City West. Both participated in Honor Flight trips to Washington in the past year, and though they traveled at different times, their takeaways were nearly identical.

"The memorials in Washington, those were very meaningful," said Whitaker, who joined the Merchant Marine at age 16 and served in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. He took the Honor Flight trip to the capital last May. "But the thing that was most heartwarming to me, leaving on that flight from Phoenix, was all the people that were there to shake your hand, from little children 3, 4, 5 years old up to our age. And it was the same at every airport, every time we changed planes.

"The other thing that was special was when the guy comes out of the front of the airplanes, hollered out ‘mail call,’ and there’s a big bunch of letters from school kids, friends, relatives. Just like the old days."

Carraker’s recollection of his trip in November was much the same: "Two things that really stuck to me. One was mail call just before we got back to Phoenix. I got the nicest letters from all these school kids; it really tugged at you. I wrote some of them back.

"The other was all the little kids and all the people that shook hands with us at all the airports, everytime we changed flights. It was really amazing that they knew what they did, the admiration they show for us, to shake our hands and say hi.

"I’ve never been treated so well. I’d never been to Washington. It was the deal of a lifetime for me. I’m so glad I did it. Anybody who has a chance to do it, they should go."

Carraker, who describes himself as "a flatlander from Kansas who didn’t know there was an ocean until I joined the Navy," has another new experience coming Monday. It will be his first visit to Chase Field.

"You’re never too old for a new experience," he said. "I want to go to talk to some of the guys. We can talk about the same things and understand each other."

One of those guys is Whitaker, who’s also looking forward to the get-together.

"It’s very enlightening to sit and talk, share our stories" he said. "We understand each other, because we’ve been there."