102-year-old Chet Smith visits Washington, D.C.

By By Lisa Britton May 24, 2013 10:00 am

Submitted photo—Baker City veteran Chet Smith, age 102, visits the memorial built to honor veterans of World War II. He was one of 47 veterans from Oregon who took part in the Honor Flight trip May 15-18.

By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Chet Smith figured he would be the eldest veteran on his Honor Flight trip.

Nope.

The veteran from Texas had him beat at 107.

“I thought I had it,” he says. “I thought 102 was the oldest.”

He shook that man’s hand while both took in the memorial built to honor veterans of World War II.

Smith, who turned 102 on May 10, was one of 47 veterans from Oregon who took part in the Honor Flight trip May 15-18.

Smith worked as a mechanic from 1942 to 1945 with Naval Air. Most of his time was spent in Pasco, Wash., rebuilding carburetors for airplanes. 

He was also stationed in Chicago, Astoria and finally San Diego.

Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon is part of the Honor Flight Network that honors World War II veterans by taking them to Washington, D.C., to visit the National World War II Memorial.

Nearly 100,000 veterans have participated since 2005. All expenses are paid for the veterans. “Guardians” assisting the veterans pay their own lodging, meals and airline costs — about $1,000.

“If you got on that plane without a nickel in your pocket, you’d be fine,” Smith said.

His daughter, Susan Peters, accompanied him.

While in D.C., the group visited the World War II Memorial, the U.S. Capitol (intern Jon Calhoun from North Powder was their tour guide), the Lincoln Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, Vietnam and Korean memorials, Arlington National Cemetery, the Air and Space Museum  near Dulles Airport and the Air Force Memorial, where the Air Force Band played a medley of songs.

“Including ‘Happy Birthday’ to Dad,” Peters said.

His favorite stop was to watch the changing of the guard at Arlington.

“That was very impressive,” Smith said.

Not included in the tight itinerary, however, was a trip to see the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic in 1927.

Smith asked if they would get to see the plane because “that’s what I came for.”

The answer was no.

So Smith and Peters began making plans to get a cab later to make the trip on their own.

Their conversation was overheard, and some extra time suddenly appeared in the schedule.

“They made a special deal just for us to go see it,” Smith said. 

His interest wasn’t solely because Lindbergh’s plane is similar to the one he bought in 1937.

“I’m old enough to remember when it happened,” Smith said of the historic flight.

In addition to the three full days of touring, the veterans received special treatment.

“Everywhere they went, people were clapping,” Peters said.

“They treated us first class,” Smith said of the experience.

He encourages all veterans to sign up for Honor Flight. For more information, visit the website http://honorflightofeasternoregon.org/ or call 541-388-5591.