Honor Flight pays tribute to Shell 77 crew

Honor Flight pays tribute to Shell 77 crew

SPOKANE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Wash. - Inland Northwest Honor Flight takes local vets to Washington DC to visit the national memorials, but the most recent flight honored another crew, the Fairchild airmen of Shell 77 who died when their KC-135 crashed in Kyrgyzstan last May.

There were close to 90 veterans aboard the Honor Flight at Spokane International Airport Tuesday morning, including John Ponis and Clayton Peterson, two WWII veterans who have been friends she they were drafted together and served in the Army.

"We have been together ever since Fort Lewis induction center," John Ponis said.

It was back in 1945 while in boot camp that Ponis met his lifelong best friend Clayton Peterson. The only significant time the two have spent apart was an 11-month stretch during their deployment

"He ended up on a different island and when we came back he was on a different ship," Peterson explained.

After being discharged the two found each other again and looked for jobs in eastern Washington, where they ended up finding work on the Columbia Basin Project.

Tuesday the veterans of WWII and Korea were honoring some other comrades who never made it home: Captains Victoria Pinckney, Mark Voss and Tech Sergeant Herman 'Tre' Mackey were killed in a KC-135 crash shortly after takeoff on May 3, 2013. The members of the Shell 77 were young enough to be the grandchildren of the veterans.

Fairchild Air Force Base commander Colonel Brian Newberry was moved when he learned that Honor Flight wanted to pay their respects for the trio of 92nd Air Refueling Wing airmen who never made it home.

"It's outstanding that they have been able to connect those three airmen that we lost last year, who with their crippled jet fought to the last second to keep trying to fuel the fight. It is so emblematic of this greatest generation that never gave up during World War II," Newberry said.

And for the veterans taking this flight the right words weren't easy to come by.

"Pretty excited," veteran Joe Lilge said. "I thought it was really nice. I am just honored to be here honored to be with a bunch of guys like this. It's wonderful."

"I feel honored … whether I deserve it or not," Ponis said humbly.