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Ginn reflects on military service, recent honor flight experience

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By Jacob Blair

Sept. 12 marked a feat for Carl Bernard “Bernie” Ginn. It was only the second time he ever flew onboard an airplane.

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The first time was flying back to Kentucky from Newark after serving during the Korean War in Germany, but this time the flight was to visit Washington D.C. as part of the Honor Flight Bluegrass’ third flight of the year.

“The only time I had flown was that one time and then when I got on the plane and looked out and saw that wingspan, and people on with wheelchairs and everything, I thought this will never get off the ground,” he said. “And sure enough it did, it got off the ground and we had a great flight.”

Ginn summed up the experience in one word: “Fantastic.” He also said he never knew an old soldier could be treated so great.

“For the first time in my life, I felt like I was important,” Ginn said with a laugh and a smile.

While on the trip, Ginn and the other veterans got to see the World War II Memorial, the Korean and Vietnam war memorials, Arlington National Cemetery, the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima) and also drove past the Air Force Memorial. While waiting at the gate at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the veterans also got “mail call” with letters from family, friends, and even people they might’ve not known, thanking them for their military service. Ginn said he had 37 pieces of mail.

Upon the group’s return to Louisville, hundreds greeted them with a welcome home ceremony.

“One thing that really intrigued me was the little girls and boys, not very old, and they’d hold their hand out and want to shake hands too,” he said. “I tried not to miss any of them.”

Carla Goins, Ginn’s daughter, also traveled with him as a guardian for the trip.

“It was a sacred honor actually, not just to go with him, but to experience the other veterans there and hear their stories,” she said. “It was just really neat.”

The veterans can travel on the honor flight for free, but guardians, whether it is a family member or a volunteer, have to pay a $500 fee.

“My brothers, and I think Mom, helped pay that fee so I got the best end of the deal,” she said. ”Got to do the legwork and experience that.”

“She gave me a good workout,” Ginn said with a laugh.

Ginn’s military service

Ginn recalled the very day he got a draft notice, April 5, 1951. As a 21 year old, Ginn said he knew that he would likely be drafted, so he attempted to enlist prior to in the U.S. Navy. He was given the choice of leaving on a Monday or Tuesday.

“I said I’ll stay around as long as I can,” he said. “Monday, the recruiting officer tapped me on the shoulder and said everything’s off.”

He got that notice a couple days later, took off his back brace, threw it in the attic and hopped on a Greyhound bus to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.

One of the differences he noticed during the training was the mountainous terrain.

“It was pretty rigid, but I kept up with them,” he said.

After roughly six months, they rounded up around 1,500 soldiers in a large field.

“They called out our names and they either said Korea or EUCOM, which is European Command,” he said. “They called out my buddy and he got Korea. They called out my name and they said EUCOM. I jumped about this high because I knew I was going to Germany.”

It took around seven days for the soldiers to arrive at European Command. Although he didn’t see combat, Ginn said tensions were so high between Russia and the United States that there was always the possibility, calling it luck that they didn’t see combat.

“I never saw battle or anything, but overseas we were in constant alert, training, and when we first got there, they assigned us to a hospital in Nuremberg, Germany,” he said. “They said just loaf around and observe. So I didn’t know what they had in mind or anything and said boy, this is great. Later on, we settled near Stuttgart, Germany and the 15th Evacuation Hospital was established. Then I knew why we were sent to the hospital for two months.”

Ginn was assigned to the hospital’s office, but said the office work meant higher expectations.

“Starting up a new outfit, I thought I was really doing good because they assigned me to the office, but little did I know more was expected. They made me an acting corporal at private’s pay. All during the service I was an acting corporal with private pay until I got discharged after seven years in the reserve, they promoted me to corporal.”

Ginn wound up in the office because of a decision he made back at Trimble County High School.

“Overall, we were busy, at least I was. I don’t know how they found out I took type and shorthand in high school when I’m a farmer,” he said with a laugh.

“I didn’t like Algebra and Algebra didn’t like me,” he said. “So I decided to take type and shorthand so I could graduate.”

When his time in active duty at European Command came to an end, he said it took around 11 days to return to the states, when they hit a lot of storms at sea.

“It was real rough. There’s a whole lot of water out there and I decided I was glad I didn’t get the Navy,” Ginn said.

However, Ginn said he was thankful for his time in service and that he got to see a part of the world that was away from the homestead.

“If they needed an old man just to stay in the office, I’d go again,” Ginn said.

Honor Flight Bluegrass

Jeff Thoke with Honor Flight Bluegrass said Korean War veterans made up the largest contingent of those on the Sept. 12 flight with 58. Fifteen World War II veterans and 10 Vietnam War veterans were also onboard.

The September flight was the last one for the Bluegrass chapter this year and plans are already underway for next year’s schedule, according to the chapter’s website. Thanks to donations received by Honor Flight Bluegrass, veterans can participate at no cost. World War II veterans and terminally ill veterans from any war era have top priority for making the honor flight. Korean War veterans then have priority, followed by Vietnam War veterans.

More information is available online at honorflightbluegrass.org or by contacting Thoke at 502-645-5421.