SWISHER- Joseph “Fred” Novotny, a former petty officer, third class, in the U.S. Navy, served his country in the vast Pacific Ocean theatre during World War II.
He remembered the change he saw in what was previously enemy territory, when the crew of the U.S.S. Arenac, an amphibious attack transport vessel that carried hundreds of troops, landed in the just-surrendered islands of Japan in Sept. 1945.
The occupying U.S. troops were greeted with welcome signs.
This summer, Novotny got another hero’s welcome as he and his son went to Washington, D.C. for a day-long tour of the capital, with the elder Novtony’s expenses paid by Eastern Iowa Honor Flight (www.eihonorflight.org ).
Lynn “Lefty” Novotny was his escort for the trip.
“It was the experience of a lifetime to be able to have time with dad and the rest of the guys. I got to see the hero’s welcome they received all over the place,” said Lynn.
His father connected with a childhood friend from Joe’s first communion class some four score years before, and the men sat on a bus with other vets and shared war stories and memories of their comrades-in-arms as they toured the capital.
The flights are organized by an all-volunteer team and in 2012, the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight crew flew four missions to bring veterans to Washington. Each seat on the trip is free for the veteran, and his or her guardian pays a fee to cover some of the costs of the day.
Russ Dunn, the director of Eastern Iowa Honor Flight, said his group is always looking for more veterans to honor and could use help with some of the funds to do it. Since the program began in 2008, they’ve been able to bring over 800 veterans to D.C. on honor flights. He is now organizing a flight for April 2013.
Priority is given to any veteran with a terminal disease, but the majority of those honored are veterans from World War II.
Lynn Novotny said the June 5, 2012, honor flight was punctuated with strong emotions.
At the Iwo Jima Memorial, a few hundred tourists and schoolchildren spontaneously began to cheer and applaud when they realized who the men were. Youngsters lined up to shake the hands of the men who gladly risked their lives to fight against enemy Axis powers over 60 years ago.
“It’s so emotional for me when you really take a serious step back into time, and look at what these guys sacrificed for us,” Novotny said of his father’s generation. “If we wouldn’t have won the war, many of us wouldn’t be here. They had to sacrifice and work for it.”
Yet the veterans demur such praise.
“To a man,” he said, “none considers himself a hero.”
The veterans received a hero’s welcome several times that day in D.C., and when the long day was over and the Honor Flight landed back at the Eastern Iowa Airport around midnight, hundreds more Iowans gathered to salute their heroes in the airport lobby, shaking hands, saying thank you, and cheering once again for their safe return.
During his time in the Navy, the elder Novotny sailed all around the Pacific Ocean theatre during World War II, delivering troops and supplies in the Philippines, Guam, Okinawa, Pearl Harbor and San Francisco. After delivering troops and officers back to the West coast, he stayed on to bring the ship through the Panama Canal and home to Norfolk, Va., where the battered boat was eventually deactivated.
Many sent correspondence to soldiers and sailors during the war from home to keep their spirits up and relay the local news. One Swisher girl named Pauline sent letters to Joe Novotny, and they connected when he returned to the area and eventually married.
The couple, now married for over 60 years, renovated the one-room schoolhouse which Pauline attended until eighth grade.
They paid just over $1,000 for the schoolhouse and an acre of land, renovated the building and, in 1960, moved in for good, raising two children. Their son, Lynn, lives in California, and their daughter, Cheryl, lives in Waterloo.