Heroes' welcome

World War II veteran Ray Saunders, center, accompanied by his son, Bob Saunders, walk past Bradford Area High School students Friday who honored them and others in conjunction with the Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight ceremony. The event will culminate for the veterans with a flight to Washington, D.C. Sunday where they will visit war memorials and other sights.

While the number of veterans honored was smaller than in some years, the enthusiasm shown by the community was as overwhelming as ever when the Buffalo-Niagara Honor Flight celebration was held Friday in Bradford.

The event, staged at Bradford Area High School, included presentations, an honor luncheon and a motorcade parade through the community past all schools and a number of businesses in town.

Superintendent Katharine Pude, who has been instrumental in her support of the event, said four veterans from the community, Art Holt, Wade Confer, Dave Confer and Ray Saunders, attended the ceremony,

Pude said the Confer father-son team, both of whom are veterans, and Ray Saunders, who will be accompanied by his son, Bob, will travel to a hotel in Buffalo today. They will participate in a Meet and Greet event in Buffalo and will fly with the Buffalo Niagara group to Washington, D.C. early Sunday, returning home later that night.

Pude said Holt, a World War II veteran, was unable to fly to the nation’s capital, but was able to attend Friday’s luncheon with his family.

At Ray Saunders’ luncheon table, his son, Bob, said he was proud of his father and glad he wanted to participate in the event. “We talked about it, but he didn’t think about (Honor Flight) for a number of years,” Bob Saunders said of his father. “But he’s very happy to do it. We were kind of a last-minute add-on.”

Both said they haven’t seen the World War II Memorial.

“We’re looking forward to that very much,” Bob Saunders added. Ray Saunders noted that he served with the Army cavalry in the European Theater. His outfit was attached to General George Patton’s Third Army.

Wade Confer, a veteran with the U.S. Army paratroopers, served during the Cold War and traveled to Germany and Beirut, Lebanon, in the late 1950s. His son, Dave Confer, also served with the U.S. Army paratroopers, and was accompanying his father to Washington as a fellow veteran. Wade Confer’s wife, Delores, also attended the luncheon and said she was proud of both her husband and son.

“This is wonderful, but since I was just in the Cold War, there are other people more deserving than myself,” Wade Confer said. “There’s the Vietnam vets and the Korean vets (and those who served) in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think they should go before me.

“Like I tell people, freedom isn’t free,” he continued. “I’ve been to those cemeteries and concentration camps (during the Cold War), and it isn’t free.”

At Art Holt’s table, his son, Randy Holt, said his father had served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

“He was on a tanker that refueled ships, all the ships basically,” Randy Holt said of his dad.

Art Holt’s sister, Janet Robinson, said her father only recently told the family his ship had been bombed several times by suicide bombers, which killed several fellow sailors.

“That was the first time my dad ever said anything to us about those suicide bombers,” she remarked.

Francie Forbes, Bradford Area School District board member, said she helped organize the event as her father is a World War II veteran. She said her father had traveled with an Honor Flight group to the World War II Memorial in the past.

“I knew what an impact it had on him,” Forbes said of her father’s visit to Washington. “It was just an amazing thing for him and so when I heard we had the opportunity to be involved (with the Honor Flight), I knew we should be involved.”

High school students who commented on the Honor Flight event included ninth-graders Haley Pire and Cassandra Waid. Both stood in the hallway with flags waiting for the veterans to pass by.

“I like seeing the smiles on their faces when they walk by,” Pire said.

Waid added, “I like seeing people who helped get us to where we are” in the United States.

“And I’m really happy to see that they’re smiling and stuff and they’re proud of what they did.”

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)