Local brothers take Honor Flight
By John Morse
William “Bill” Julias Morse (100)—a long-time resident of Lake Ann and current resident of Traverse City—and his younger brother, James “Jim” Morse, Sr. (93) of Lake Ann, flew on the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. on October 5, 2022. (Bill had turned 100 years old just a month before, on September 1, and was previously featured in The Betsie Current’s pages; see our online archives.)
Bill is a World War II veteran who served with the 8th Air Corps, 457 Bomb Group, in England as a crew chief for B-17 Bombers beginning in 1942. His younger brother Jim Sr. was drafted into the Army in 1951 and served in the 2nd Armored Division at Foc Kasern, Germany. The brothers grew up on the family farm near Lake Ann, with their parents, William M. and Esther Morse, and their other siblings, Jean Rosa, Helen White, and James Arner (all now deceased).
Jeff Morse (57)—nephew of Bill and son of Jim Sr.—explained that family members of “Uncle Billy” have been trying to get him to go on the Honor Flight for the past 10 years.
The mission of Mid-Michigan Honor Flight is to “honor” WWII, Korean, and VietNam veterans by taking them to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials that this country has built for them. This is provided free of charge with the help of an all-volunteer force. It is a time of healing for veterans, as well as sharing of their military history and their legacy with family and friends. The Mid-Michigan Honor Flight covers 51 counties from the Mackinac Bridge down to Oakland and Genesee counties.
“Uncle Billy always declined, saying that he had no interest in going,” Jeff Morse said.
However, they decided to try another tactic this time—make him an offer that he could not refuse.
The Morse family was contacted by representatives of the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight prior to Bill’s 100th birthday party. They wanted to know what it would take to convince him to go on the flight, and asked, “What would he do if he was ordered to go?” So a plan was developed, and two representatives from the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight showed up at Bill’s 100th birthday party in September with written orders for brothers Bill and Jim Sr. to report for duty for one final mission—to fly on the honor flight to D.C.
They both agreed, and applications for the brothers and their companions, John (myself) and my brother Jay (we are both sons of Jim Sr., along with our previously mentioned brother, Jeff) were completed on the spot, at the party.
The two generations of Morse brothers arrived at Camp Grayling on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 4, for registration, fellowship, training, and the evening banquet. On hand for Mission 14 were four WWII veterans, 54 Korean War veterans, and 25 VietNam veterans, as well as approximately 15 guardians that were from other military service eras—of all those present, 100-year-old Bill Morse was the oldest person involved, and he did two interviews within the first 15 minutes. Also attending were their companions, Honor Flight staff and volunteers, various dignitaries, and numerous members of the press, along with Honor Flight founder Earl Morse (no relation), from central Ohio, who was participating in last year’s Honor Flight.
One of the unplanned, fun performances of the night occurred when the Army Band took a break from playing music to eat their dinner; that is when first Bill Morse, then his brother Jim Sr., sat at the piano and played music for those in attendance—both play music by ear and neither has ever had a music lesson. The Army Band members looked on with admiration.
The next morning, the group boarded buses and left Camp Grayling at 5 a.m. They arrived at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City around 6:20 a.m. and boarded an American Airlines charter flight for Washington, D.C.
There were several dozen people in the Traverse City airport lobby who cheered and waved flags as the veterans and their companions boarded the plane. Fire trucks on the taxiway shot streams of water into the air in salute to the veterans. Flight attendants wore patriotic attire, and the plane was decorated with stars and stripes, in honor of the passengers. The oldest passengers were seated in first class, with Bill Morse seated in the first row. Upon arriving in the nation’s capital, the plane was again saluted by fire trucks and by airport workers on the ground; the halls inside the airport were once again lined with well-wishers and scores of people thanking the veterans for their service.
The group boarded buses and were off to the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. As they were unloading in the shadow of the Washington Monument, Honor Flight founder Earl Morse approached and asked Bill, “Can I show you your memorial?” Earl then pushed Bill’s wheelchair through the WWII Memorial and explained panel by panel in detail—Bill later said that one of his favorite parts of the whole experience was seeing the “8th Air Force display,” showing a B-17 Bomber.
A young woman visiting from Turkey approached Bill at the memorial and asked to get her picture taken with him. Then she said:
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Go on,” Bill replied.
“What did you think of the war?”
After a short pause, Bill replied, “I wish it never happened.”
The group then headed over to the Lincoln Memorial for a group picture. The Morses then walked a short way over to the VietNam Veterans Memorial Wall. They somberly observed the wall and looked up the names of two young men who were lost in the war. On the way up the walkway, Jim Morse Sr. asked to be pushed over to the wall and stop for a minute. He placed his hand on the wall and stated, “I knew every one of them.” Metaphorically speaking, everyone knew he was right.
They then walked over to the Korean War Memorial. The part of the memorial with the 19 service men walking through the field was dedicated in 1995. The new Wall of Remembrance—listing the names of those missing or killed in action—just opened in July 2022. An interesting fact of this wall is that it lists individuals killed in action (KIA) from both the United States and South Korea. After looking up the names of two young men from Traverse City, Jim Sr. addressed the wall saying, “These were my comrades; it’s as simple as that.” And he meant all of the men listed; both American and Korean.
The group then headed over to Arlington, where they did a drive-by tour of the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Netherlands Carillon before going to Arlington National Cemetery. They then stopped near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for instructions and to view the changing of the guards. Then Bill Morse and the other three WWII veterans on the Honor Flight tour were pushed forward to place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They backed up and saluted the tomb, while the bugler played Taps.
After that, the group stopped at the Military Women’s Memorial, where several women on the Honor Flight were recognized.
“It’s about time they got the recognition they deserve,” Bill said.
The Morses stopped outside at a small monument to the 2nd Armored Division, known as “Hell on Wheels,” which is the division that Jim Morse Sr. served with in Germany during the 1950s. The final stop on the tour was the U.S. Air Force Memorial, which stands on a hill in Arlington overlooking the Pentagon. The group then headed back to Reagan National Airport to start their journey home.
The Honor Flight arrived back in Traverse City late that night. After the staff and media got off the plane, the VietNam veterans were asked to get off next; they received a loud ovation and welcome home from the rest of the people on the plane—a welcome that they missed out on 50 years ago, when the idea of the war was quite controversial and those who served were caught in the middle.
When the whole group walked down the ramp into the terminal at Cherry Capital Airport, they were greeted with a huge throng of family and well-wishers cheering and waving flags, including a couple dozen relatives to the Morses.
“I never saw so many people at the Traverse City airport in all of my life,” Bill Morse said. At the airport, the veterans received a heroes’ welcome, lots of hugs, handmade teddy bears, and a special Mail Call with letters from friends and family.
In summation, the October 2022 Mid-Michigan Honor Flight was a huge success.
Fellow veteran Bob Roelofs (64), who grew up in the same community as the Morses, explained:
“As a young person moving to Lake Ann in 1970, my family and I were strangers to a new town, where just about everyone else was related to each other. This community graciously adopted our family—Bill and Jim Morse [Sr.] were ‘Uncle Billy’ and ‘Uncle Jim’ to me and my four brothers. Their mother was “Grandma Morse” to us, and we called their sisters ‘Aunt Helen’ and ‘Aunt Jean.’ I am extremely grateful for being welcomed by the Morse clan and treated like one of their own.”
“The Honor Flight is a wonderful resource to help pay back a huge debt to these veterans who have given so much for their country.”
Full Disclosure: This article’s author, John Morse, is a son and nephew of the article’s subjects, Jim Morse Sr. and Bill Morse.
Visit MidMichiganHonorFlight.org online to learn more about the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight. The first Honor Flight of 2023 took place on May 16-17 out of Grand Rapids; the next will be September 5-6 out of Flint and October 10-11 out of Traverse City.
Featured Photo Caption: William “Bill” Julias Morse (100, left)—a long-time resident of Lake Ann and current resident of Traverse City—was one of four World War II veterans who flew on the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. on October 5, 2022. Embarking on the trip just one month after his 100th birthday, Bill Morse was the oldest person involved in the trip, out of hundreds that participated. Photo courtesy of Jim Swoboda.