Vet has faith in future

PHOTO SUBMITTED Don Comer stands at the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, D.C., during his Honor Flight trip.

Navy Veteran Don Comer said his experience on Flag City Honor Flight showed him what America truly is and that it is still here.

Comer, 90, of Tiffin, is a World War II veteran who served in the Navy 1944-1946 and left the service as a petty officer, third class. Comer and two friends, all from Bascom, enlisted right out of high school.

“There were three of us that joined up. It was me, Richard Shoemaker and Dick Walters,” he said. “Sadly, Richard was killed in the South Pacific.”

The three went to boot camp and later to the West Coast together, he said. Comer left for active duty first and worked on a repair ship. He helped dry dock destroyers and other ships that had been hit by kamikaze pilots or suffered other damage. He was stationed in Okinawa, the Marshall Islands, the Carolina Islands, Buckner Bay and all around Japan during his service. He said he was responsible for the port side of deck hands and always was busy.

“We spent every day repairing ships,” he said. “Once in awhile, I would have to help with other things, but my main job was helping bring in ships that were damaged. We always stayed busy with that.”

Comer said he was 17 when he enlisted.

“We would be in the harbor and have air raids,” he said. “There were definitely times that it was scary.”

In addition to serving his country, one thing he enjoyed was learning about fellow service members.

“I was intrigued by all the differences in people. Each person is a separate story. When you’re on a ship and serving together, people would just spill things out to you,” Comer said. “I learned that everybody has a different history, a different background. There were a lot of good guys and a lot of good people that I got to meet and get to know.”

After returning home, Comer worked at Mohawk Motor for 42 years and has been retired for 30 years. He spends time with his family and church, volunteers at St. Paul’s and helps feed the hungry and homeless twice a week.

After the urging of his neighbor Dwight Eisenhower and Eisenhower’s wife, Brenda, Comer went on the Flag City Honor Flight in June and Dwight served as his guardian. Comer said it was a great experience.

“The entire experience is simply unexplainable,” he said. “I never thought I would break down like I did. But when you think about how all these wars happened and all they cost, it is overwhelming. How can someone explain how this affects them?”

He said the memorials make a person reflect on each war and how they happened and what they meant.

“When you think of World War II, you realize that they really had a big jump on us,” Comer said. “Thinking about how far we had to come back, how long it took, the leaders we had. … For the United States to be able to bounce back from that is just simply amazing.”

He said the memorials really got to most of the veterans and he had a hard time holding back tears.

“Each memorial was completely different,” he said. “It’s indescribable unless you see it for yourself and each one will choke you up.”

Comer said he thought of the people who designed and built each memorial.

“When you think of those that designed these and built them, you realize this country really is full of great people,” he said.

While the entire trip was great, he said the experience at Arlington National Cemetery and being greeted after returning home were the best parts.

“Arlington really got to me the most,” he said. “When you look out and see all the headstones as far as you can see and you realize that there is a story behind each person buried there. … It just really hits you hard.”

He added that being surprised at the hangar by hundreds of people welcoming the veterans home was icing on the cake.

“That was just such a surprise and so wonderful,” he said. “I can’t explain how dedicated all of the Honor Flight people and volunteers were or the precision of everything that went on and everything they did or how great these people are at what they do. It really was something special.”

Comer said he went to the Ohio Flags of Honor memorial while it was in Tiffin and met a Scout leader and some Boy Scouts who were participating in those events. He said the passion and seriousness they had for what they were doing and helping with gave him hope for this country.

“When I see 12- and 14-year-old boys who are that dedicated to something they care about, I know we have a good future ahead of us,” he said.

Comer said his time in the service, experience with Honor Flight and observation of the dedication of those around him lead him to conclude the country is not lost and the future remains bright.

“We are not a lost society. There are still a lot of good people out there,” Comer said. “This is America. It’s not what you read in the newspaper or see on the news. The people of Honor Flight and the people of Arlington — that’s what this country is all about. This country is about the positive. This is still America.”