EUGENE, Ore. — After months of planning and fundraising, South Willamette Valley’s first honor flight is ready to depart.
Fifty-eight World War II veterans are en route to Washington, D.C., taking off from Portland early Friday morning. One of those veterans has been waiting 70 years for this honor.
Merrill McKern, 92, has his bags packed and is ready for an adventure.
Inside McKern’s Eugene home, you won’t find any pictures or medals highlighting his military service. Like many veterans, he’s not one to boast. But he does have a hat tucked away inside an armoire–a hat that tell his story.
McKern, a lieutenant J.G. on board the U.S.S. Fitch, enlisted in 1942. At the time the U.S. was already at war. He knew the dangers he faced.
“Anytime you are at sea, you are at risk because of submarines and bombing raids and so forth,” McKern said.
He was there on D-Day June 6,1944, a pivotal day in the war when 160,000 allied troops landed at Normandy.
“I am proud our ship was documented to be the first one that fired on D-Day. I’m proud our gunners knocked out a German battery so we could rescue over 200 survivors from our sister ship,” McKern said.
In all, McKern served four years with the Navy. He’s one 58 local veterans traveling this weekend to Washington, D.C. It will be their first time seeing the National World War II Memorial.
Also on the Honor Flight will be 47 guardians. McKern is flying with his son. Mike Pungercar, the principal organizer, is overseeing the trip.
“It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to it. It’s been overwhelming particularly in the last several weeks trying to put everything together,” Pungercar said. “We will see the Oregon pillar at the WWII memorial and people from other states will have the chance to walk around and find their home state.”
“Of course we would be very interested in Oregon,” McKern said.
Ask him about his service and McKern will share his story. A dedicated sailor, then and now.
This weekend he will finally experience our country’s dedication to him.