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Local veteran takes honor flight to D.C.

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Published:   |   Updated: September 21, 2013 at 06:17 PM

SPRING HILL - Jack Abbey bought a $40 bottle of scotch 68 years ago to celebrate the end of World War II.

Abbey, a radio operator for the army, was stationed in Guam when the news came and celebration started.

On Tuesday, Abbey, now 91, was one of many veterans from around the Tampa Bay area to participate in an honor flight to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials.

HPH Hospice, a partner with a national program called "We Honor Veterans," sponsored Abbey's trip with Honor Flight of West Central Florida.

Carla Hayes, marketing communications coordinator for HPH Hospice, said the organization sponsors the trips as a way to "emotionally, physically and psychologically" care for veterans later in life.

Abbey, who lives in the Salishan retirement community, said he enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly after graduating from high school in 1942. Abbey completed basic training, but later learned he "wasn't fit for submarine duty" due to his eyesight. Out of the service, Abbey was eager for action, but was turned away by other branches of the military until being taken by the Army Air Corps as a radio operator.

Abbey said he was stationed in Saipan, an unincorporated United States territory and part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, living in a tent near the end of a runway where B-29 bombers flew.

"You'd hear them take off and groan ... that was a real airplane," Abbey said.

As a radio operator, Abbey worked six hours on and six hours off intercepting Morse code. He was responsible for communicating with troops on the ground, in the air and at sea. Frequency sirens set off by the opposing Japanese forces has left him with hearing damage, Abbey said.

Once the war was over, Abbey went home to Ann Arbor, Mich., married his wife and had four children. Abbey spent his career as a manufacturing engineer for Ford, and retired to Florida in 1993.

On Tuesday, Abbey, accompanied by his son, joined other veterans from Tampa Bay, flying from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport to Baltimore, where they boarded a bus for D.C., then visiting the war memorials.

Abbey said he had a chance to talk with veterans from other branches of the military, including a veteran based on a submarine in the Arctic during the war.

On their flight home after an "exhausting day," the veterans received mail call - just like during the service - with hundreds of letters from school children, politicians and others, thanking him for his service.

Back in Florida, Abbey told the honor flight director he was "awe struck" by the trip. Then he walked through the airport doors to a crowd of 500 people, bands, bagpipers, honor guards, MacDill representatives, teachers, bomber girls and American flags.

"It was the most amazing experience of my life," Abbey said.

More information on HPH Hospice and We Honor Veterans is available at http://hph-hospice.org/veterans/, and more information on Honor Flight of West Central Florida is available at http://www.honor flightwcf.org/.

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5283

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