Longtime Fallbrook resident Bud Roberds, a 98-year-old World War II veteran, recently enjoyed “a wonderful trip” when he joined 79 other veterans in traveling from San Diego to Washington D.C. – with all expenses paid – courtesy of Honor Flight San Diego.
HFSD is a non-profit branch of the nationwide Honor Flight Network which consists of over 130 independent “hubs” across America. Honor Flight’s mission is “to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends.””I was impressed with the organization,” said Roberds. “It was all top-notch.”
Roberds plays the piano at Peking Wok Restaurant in Bonsall – his current schedule has him providing background tunes for diners Tuesday through Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 9 p.m. – and Jim Mendelson, a longtime patron of the restaurant, hooked up Roberds with the people at Honor Flight.
Roberds, who broke his right leg last November when he took a tumble while visiting Peking Wok on an off night, recuperated in time to make the Honor Flight trip the weekend of May 4-6. He was accompanied by his son, Bill.
“Each veteran has a guardian (on the trip), and if you don’t have one, they assign one to you,” said Roberds. “So my son volunteered to be my guardian.”
The American Airlines Honor Flight departed San Diego the morning of May 4 and touched down that afternoon at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
“My first surprise was when we landed there was a group of about 50 people greeting us, saying thanks for your service, bless you and all that kind of stuff,” said Roberds. “Men, women and children. I was really taken by that.”
The group stayed at hotel in Baltimore and enjoyed a welcome dinner. The next morning, the veterans were up early to board a bus to Washington D.C., where they would spend the day touring war memorials and other historic sites. Each veteran was given a wheelchair, which was pushed by their guardian.
The buses carrying the Honor Flight heroes always had the right of way when traveling from one location to the next.
“In D.C., every place the bus went we had a police escort,” said Roberds. “We went through red lights.”
Honor Flight provided special shirts for the veterans to wear and those shirts prompted an outpouring of thanks and good wishes.
“We were at the Lincoln Memorial and people would see us, stop and say, ‘thank you for your service,'” said Roberds, eyes tearing up at the memory. “I get choked up.”
Roberds said the touring lasted all day.
“The World War II Memorial, I was impressed with,” said Roberds. “That was the biggest. Then we saw the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And we visited the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial…that’s pretty heavy,” said Roberds, his eyes getting moist once again
Upon returning to Baltimore, the group enjoyed dinner at the hotel, recounting the activities of the day.
“Most of the veterans (on the trip) were World War II but we’re kind of running out of those guys,” said Roberds. “Then there was a small bunch from the Korean and a smaller group from the Vietnam.”
Roberds was drafted and joined the U.S. Army in March 1943. He went through basic training at Fort Custer (Michigan) in the Military Escort Guard unit, and his first assignment was guarding German POWs at Fort McClellan (Alabama).
Roberds was transferred to a 40 mm anti-aircraft artillery unit in 1944, went to Europe in December 1944 and entered Germany in February 1945. His unit joined General George Patton’s Third Army when it crossed the Rhine River in March 1945. Roberds’ unit stayed on the west side, protecting the troops while engineers –under heavy fire – installed a pontoon bridge so that tanks could cross.
Roberds’ unit was guarding an airport north of Munich when the German war ended. He stayed in Munich another year as part of the occupation force before returning to the U.S. in March 1946. Roberds was discharged April 5, 1946.
Roberds said the most memorable part of his Honor Flight trip was “that return to San Diego.”
“As we were coming into land (at San Diego International Airport) the pilot told us to look out the window,” said Roberds. “Then we saw all these police cars lined up with their lights on to welcome us home.”
Once in the terminal, the group took an elevator down a level, and when the doors opened the veterans were greeted by a throng of cheering people. Patriotic music played in the background as the veterans and their guardians slowly navigated their way through the crowd, shaking hands on both sides as the procession aisle.
“Bill thought there were at least a thousand people there,” said Roberds. “They were just lined up – men, women and children on both sides. My son was pushing me through and they’re shaking your hand, saying ‘thanks for your service,’ and ‘welcome home to San Diego’. Old people, middle-age, and kids. One little kid gave me a cookie and another little kid handed me a flag and they say, ‘thanks for your service.’
“God almighty,” continued Roberds, the memory causing his eyes to tear up like they did that day. “A lady gave me a tissue. When I was talking to other guys, they said they had tears. It was one of the most amazing group things I’ve been involved with. This really touched me. It was the end (of the trip), but the climax.”
Roberds, a native of San Jacinto, graduated from UCLA even though he didn’t finish his senior year. He was halfway through his senior year when he was drafted.
“My senior year we took midterms and the rule was if you passed your midterms and you went into the service, they give you credit for the rest of the year,” explained Roberds, who took – and passed – his midterms the week before he reported to duty.
Roberds, who as the son of a musician grew up learning to play various instruments, taught music at a school in San Jacinto for nine years before he and his wife, Jewell, moved to Fallbrook in 1956. Roberts was employed as a music teacher by both the Fallbrook Elementary and Fallbrook High School districts for four years before he became full-time at the high school in 1960.
Roberds is a member of the California Retired Teachers Association and a parishioner at St. Peter the Apostle. He has been performing at Peking Wok since 1990 (the restaurant was in Vista back then) and still drives himself to and from work. His mind is razor sharp.
Roberds sometimes is too active for his own good, as was the case in 2007 when, at age 87, he broke his left leg.
“I was putting up Christmas decorations and fell off the roof onto the concrete,” said Roberds with a guilty smile.
Roberds bounced back from that injury, just as he has from his most recent fall, proving the saying, “you can’t keep a good man down.”