Moore Haven WWII vet gets Honor Flight experience

OKEECHOBEE — May being one of two months each year when the nation pauses to recognize the sacrifices made by countless soldiers in America’s military engagements, the people at Honor Flight Hub have been extremely busy. And a couple with local ties also was busy these past few months, getting their 93-year-old, World War II veteran dad who lives in Moore Haven, Leonard Nichols, included in the most recent Southwest Florida Honor Flight (SFHF) last weekend.

Mr. Nichols’ daughter and son-in-law, Sally and Joe Pfeffer of Heath, Ohio, came to Florida two months ago and arranged everything so he could go. Mr. Pfeffer accompanied his father-in-law on the flight Saturday, May 5, to Washington, D.C., aboard American Airlines out of Fort Myers.

Seaman First Class Leonard Nichols, a World War II veteran now living in Moore Haven, was included in the most recent Southwest Florida Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Nichols family.

The two joined 64 other Southwest Florida veterans (and their 64 companion/guardians) on that flight. Those vets’ journey to remember their fallen comrades-in-arms — and to experience the gratitude of younger generations for their own service to country — was paid for by Southwest Florida Honor Flight Inc. (Honor Flight Hub, coincidentally, lists 65 flights into the capital by chapters all over the country during May, culminating, of course, the week of Memorial Day.)

SFHF is the local chapter of the nationwide volunteer network that exists to pay tribute to the WWII vets who still survive today, nearly 73 years after the war ended, and to survivors of the United States’ other military actions in the decades since.

Mr. Nichols, Mr. Pfeffer and the other 128 veterans and guardians going along were to visit the World War II Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall, the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, among other sights.

Mr. Nichols joined the U.S. Navy in 1942, Mrs. Pfeffer related, earning the rank of seaman first class. He served in Alaska, Japan, the Philippines and many South Pacific islands, aboard the USAT (Army Transport) troopship Saint Mihiel and the USS Luna, a general stores issue ship.

He was closely involved with combat troops especially during the Battle of Attu, Aleutian Islands, which took place May 11-30, 1943 — 75 years ago this month! — in which he delivered men and supplies using landing craft and PT boats.

She and her husband researched veterans organizations in the area and, not finding a VFW post in Moore Haven, looked around some more. “The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post in Buckhead Ridge, we stopped in there and told them about my dad, and they gave him a World War II hat, and they also made arrangements to give him a lifetime membership. We went in there and ate one evening, and they welcomed my dad,” said Mrs. Pfeffer.

But the trip “was something that my husband and I heard about and arranged, about three months ago, ourselves. We heard about the Honor Flight; we live near Columbus, so we’ve seen that happening. And I said, ‘You know, that’d be really good for us to check on and see if we can get Dad to join up with a flight.’”

So she called the nearest Honor Flight chapter. “This is a wonderful organization that really cares about honoring our vets. We thank Ginni Fay and Liz Barton for all they do with the Southwest Florida Honor Flight organization. They all do a wonderful job of honoring our veterans,” she said.

But, Mrs. Pfeffer added, “My husband had to pay $550 to go.

“All the money that’s donated to Honor Flights goes to help the veterans, not for the guardians. So anybody that wants to donate, that donation will go to helping veterans get to see that World War II memorial — or even that Vietnam memorial because they’re taking a lot of Vietnam veterans also, because they’re at that age.

“We both thought about this, we come here a couple months every year. We’re always thinking of trying to do special things to make their life easier. … My mom … a lot of these last three years (has been getting treatment for) breast cancer, with radiation, chemotherapy. And my dad is just a wonderful caretaker; he does all he can and he won’t leave her alone.” So Mrs. Pfeffer stayed in Moore Haven with her mom, Anna, who’ll turn 80 this year.

“He used to … love to go fishing, and he has a boat so he’d go out by himself,” she said.

“And right now, he’s still pretty capable of doing that. If you met him, you would never know he’s 93 years old, because there’s nothing that I know of that he can’t do!”

And so another of the Greatest Generation receives the recognition so richly deserved.

“We just thought that would be a wonderful thing to do for him,” said Mrs. Pfeffer.

Joe Pfeffer with his father-in-law, Leonard Nichols, at the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Nichols family.


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