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Kansas Honor Flight has become a family affair for brothers

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, July 16, 2013, at 8:07 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, July 17, 2013, at 9:22 a.m.

Honor Flights

What: Kansas Honor Flight, a Hutchinson-based nonprofit that takes World War II veterans to see memorials in Washington, D.C. There’s no charge for veterans. Those accompanying the vets pay for the trip and expenses.

More information: Go to kansashonorflight.org or call 620-546-2400.

Like all Honor Flights, this week’s trip is about honoring World War II veterans with a chance to see memorials in Washington, D.C.

But for the Peters brothers, it’s also a family affair.

Not only are Gene and Don Peters among the 23 WWII vets leaving on Wednesday’s early morning Honor Flight from Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport, but they will be escorted on the three-day adventure by their daughters.

Peggy Fumagalli came from Houston to join her 92-year-old father, Gene, of Wichita on the trip. Nancy Burris of Tulsa picked up her father, Don, 87, from his home in Bartlesville, Okla., for the journey to Wichita.

When they arrive in the nation’s capital, they’ll be met by more family.

Gene’s daughter and granddaughter Rebecca and Nicole Brunner are flying in from Switzerland. Yes, Switzerland.

Don’s son Scott Peters, a physician in Tennessee, is meeting his family in Washington.

“We’re going to have a good time,” Don Peters said.

Gene Peters said, “It wasn’t planned to be a family affair, but that’s the way it turned out.”

It started with just one family member. Gene Peters finally got around to deciding to take an Honor Flight after thinking about it for two years.

“At my age, I thought it was about time I go,” he said. “I needed to go before I couldn’t walk around.”

From there it became almost a competition to see which of the five daughters of Gene and Clarice Peters would escort their father to Washington. Kansas Honor Flight, which organizes the trips, requires each veteran to be accompanied by someone.

Fumagalli either spoke up the loudest or the quickest. Three couldn’t get time off from their jobs. Brunner, a lawyer for Credit Suisse Bank in Zurich, wasn’t going to miss the chance to at least tour the memorials with her dad.

Scott Peters was originally going to be the one to travel with his dad, Don Peters.

“But it didn’t make any sense from him to travel halfway across the country to come to Wichita,” Burris said, “so I’m going with him. I’m excited to see all the memorials, and I’m proud to do it with my dad.”

Scott Peters, like his cousin from Switzerland, wasn’t going to miss out completely. So he’s flying his own plane to the D.C. area to take part in the gathering and tour.

“It’ll be a good time for them to share stories with the family,” Fumagalli said.

Gene and Don Peters are two of four brothers who grew up on a farm near Oxford, about 40 miles southeast of Wichita. All four served in the military: three in WWII, one in the Korean War.

Robert, 90, who now lives in Bartlesville, was in the Army for a short time during WWII before receiving a medical discharge and working as a speech therapist. He had been to Washington before, so he declined an invitation to join his brothers on the Honor Flight, Gene said.

Richard, 82, the youngest brother, was with the Army infantry in Korea. He lives in Edmond, Okla., where he was a history professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Gene spent his war years in the Army Air Corps at a base in Iceland, leaving two days before Christmas 1943 on the Queen Mary and returning to home soil on the Queen Elizabeth. Both were British ocean liners that were temporarily used to transport troops during WWII.

After the war, Gene spent nearly 40 years working as a service adviser for Wichita auto dealerships.

“I’m very proud of my family that they served,” Fumagalli said. “They’re a great example for the next generation and the generations to follow.”

Don Peters was an Army medic in the South Pacific who later became an engineer for Phillips Petroleum in Bartlesville. When he heard Gene was going on the Honor Flight, he was ready to sign up.

“My brother is really the reason I got to go on this trip,” Don said.

Generally, Kansas Honor Flight has taken only Kansas WWII veterans on the trips, said Mike VanCampen, who is president of the Hutchinson-based nonprofit.

“But we’ve made some exceptions to work with families,” he said.

Eddie Graham, a WWII vet who survived the Bataan Death March, was joined on an Honor Flight in May by his brother Don Graham, who was a Korean War veteran. Some veterans of post-WWII wars who are in declining health have also been on the flights.

“We understand that Kansas individuals have raised the money to send these veterans,” VanCampen said, “so we concentrate on Kansas veterans. But a veteran is a veteran. We make adjustments so in cases like the Peters brothers, they can go together.”

The group has almost completed taking WWII veterans who have applications on file, VanCampen said. Two more flights are scheduled for October, and the second one likely will include a number of Korean War vets, he added.

Vietnam War veterans follow the Korean War vets on the priority list for the flights, VanCampen said.

Kansas Honor Flights conducted three trips in 2012. This week’s flight, which will return to Wichita about 1:45 p.m. Friday, is the fourth this year.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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