The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

World War II veterans find Honor Flight 'wonderful'


November 6, 2019

Sweet Home veterans Paul Palkki, center, and Bill Seig, right, make a stop at the World War II memorial with Bill Aldin of Corvallis, who also served in that conflict.

Bill Seig and Phil Palkki once worked together, but they hadn't seen each other in years, even though they both live in the Sweet Home area.

So when they recently reunited after a couple of decades, it was kind of a surprise. Particularly since the location was Washington, D.C.

The two, both veterans of World War II, were participating in this year's South Willamette Honor Flight Oct. 3-7, which takes former service personnel on a free flight to the nation's capitol, where they visit national landmarks and memorials and are honored for their service.

Seig, 92, traveled with his daughter, Linda Smith, after his granddaughter, Peggy Porath, suggested he go. He was a little reluctant at first, he said.

"I told her I could go, but I didn't really want to, so she told my daughter Linda, who decided I had to go."

Smith said Seig is independent, which he demonstrated early on by taking the stairs from a basement reception at their Portland hotel to their sixth-floor room – to avoid a line at the elevator.

"People thought that was quite impressive," she said. "He's 92 years old and he walked up six flights of stairs."

Once in Washington, Seig said, he truly enjoyed the experience.

"Too many times, you go on them things, you get these guys to show you this, and they give you a big speech and you've got to stand there and listen, whether you can hear them or whether you can't and you don't care what they're saying anyway," Seig said. "That's what I expected. They didn't do any of that. The whole thing was just plain wonderful."

The trip included stops at the World War II, Korean and Viet Nam war memorials, the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum, Arlington Cemetery and other memorials and landmarks. The veterans' buses got police escorts on both Saturday and Sunday, through the capitol.

"Otherwise, it would take forever to get through traffic, to get from one place to another," said Palkki, who celebrated his 93rd birthday the day they arrived in D.C.

"When we got into D.C., we had dinner at the hotel," he recalled. "They had dancers from the World War II era," he said. "Then they stopped, and got up to the mic and they said, 'We happen to have a birthday today.' With all the people – there must been 140, they sang 'Happy Birthday.' That was kind of touching."

Seig and Palkki were two of three World War II veterans on the trip – the other was from Corvallis.

Smith said they got special treatment during a three-hour stop at the Air & Space Museum.

"I offered Dad the option to stay on the bus, as I didn't think he would be interested in much there.

But no, he said 'We're here, let's see it.'"

She said the museum offered the three vets a private tour with a personal docent, which gave the men the opportunity to "be close enough to see and hear everything" with a guide who was a 95-year-old Navy veteran, a docent at the museum.

"I believe Dad had more to talk about there and got more out of that tour than anything else on the trip," Smith said. "Seeing the planes that he had actually had some experiences around was very enlightening for me, as I had no idea a Navy veteran that far back had much to do with the planes.

"Dad remembered things he had not thought of in decades, which is exactly what the Honor Flight missions are all about – sharing their memories and being honored for their service."

She said her father was at dinner when he noticed that the name card next to his said "Phil Palkki," and recalled that he'd once worked with a man by that name at Willamette Industries, and had seen him again, about 20 years previously, at Wal-Mart.

Turned out, they did indeed know each other and that Palkki lived just down the street from Seig's daughter Carol.

During the war, Palkki and Seig were both involved in shipping supplies.

Seig, then of Chehalis, Wash., joined the Army National Guard in June 1943, at 16, and served as a gunner on a merchant ship until December of 1945, after the war ended, he said.

"My mom said she thought it was safer with the Japs shooting at me than I was, running around Seattle in an old car.

“Mainly, what I did was ride around the world and see the world. I left Los Angeles two months after I joined, on a ship, and went to Hawaii, Australia, over to India, then up to Syria and then over to New York – five months.

“We practically never saw the enemy. We got to New York and they turned us around and we went right back across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean, down the east coast of Africa, then around the backside of South America. It was like I had a guided tour for a young kid to see the world.”

Palkki, out of Swan River, Minn., served in the Merchant Marines, working in engine rooms as a water tender. When a ship was under attack, the crew assisted Coast Guard members, who manned the guns, providing them ammunition and other necessities, he said. His service was entirely in the Pacific, he said.

“They say that’s like being a sitting duck in the water when it comes to submarines,” he said. “When all the ships go into convoys, one ship gets hit, another one doesn’t. We didn’t have that much trouble with submarines, but after the war we had to deal with kamikazes, and they cut loose their mines.”

He said their longest layover was in Shanghai, China, where “some of the docks there when we pulled in looked like they were half gone because they’d been hit.”

Palkki said he became friends with an Australian man who had survived the sinking of a British ship sunk in the Atlantic, and when the war ended, “I told my Australian buddy I was going to catch the next train to Minnesota. I had a girlfriend there, and if she was still faithfully waiting, I was gonna propose and get married. I told the Australian, ‘If I don’t get back in two weeks, that’ll tell you she was waiting.’

“He told me, ‘Well, Phil, if your girlfriend doesn’t wait for you, let’s catch a ship and get back to Australia. I know lot of rich Australian girls who would love to have an American boy.’ I thought that was kind of interesting.”

Palkki’s girl, Helen Hietala, was “faithfully waiting” and they got married, and he never saw his Australian friend again.

Both ended up in Sweet Home, and worked together in the wood products industry.

Seig eventually went into business on his own, operating Valley View Cutting, the name later taken up by his son Chuck Seig, who founded Valley View Logging.

Palkki, who traveled with his son Dennis, said the Honor Flight trip was “really enjoyable,” though there were some emotional moments.

“It brings back some sad memories.”

Palkki said he saw the names of some of his schoolmates at the memorials, and their visit to the Vietnam Memorial was particularly personal. He had been hunting buddies in Minnesota with a young man, about 20 years younger.

“We had success every time,” he said of their hunting outings. “I love to hunt, he liked to hunt.

“He went to Vietnam, where he stayed. He lost his life.”

Palkki said he found his friend’s name, Ted Q. Reed, on the memorial.

“When that happens, it really touches a person. I wasn’t in that war, but it still touched me. There were a lot of Vietnam men there, on their knees, tears running out of their eyes. It was touching. These were their comrades.”

Seig said he was particularly impressed by Arlington Cemetery.

“You see pictures of it, you see a field out there with all them crosses. When you get there, it goes over fields, up hills, and down hills, through the trees. They said there was 640 acres, something like 400,000 buried there.

Smith said her sister and brother-in-law, Carol and Bob Barstad, took a train trip back to Washington in time to see Seig while he was there. 

“We spent the majority of the time at the memorials on Saturday with them nearby and having opportunities to share it with Dad too,” she said.

Seig said he couldn’t really name “any one thing” that he most enjoyed about the trip.

“It was just real nice,” he said.

Bill Seig, Phil Palkki and Dennis Palkki enjoy dinner.

“I know Dad had a wonderful time,” Smith said. “He downplays it a bit now, but he thoroughly enjoyed it.

She said that, on the flight home, a first-class passenger gave up his seat for Seig and, after “the entire plane erupted in cheers, applause, whistles and thank-yous,” a second first-class passenger gave up their seat for Bill Aldin of Corvallis, the third World War II veteran on the trip.”

Palkki said he would recommend the Honor Flight experience to “all servicemen” and noted that volunteer “guardians” are needed for those members of the public who don’t qualify to go as veterans.

“It was a really enjoyable trip,” he said, adding jokingly, “I got to go to Washington, D.C. to meet my neighbors.”


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