MAHOMET — John Ayers Sr. can’t say his son, John Ayers Jr. or “Junior,” isn’t a handy guy to have in his company.
“We’re going to get a wheelchair and he’s going to push me around,” 88-year-old John said.
And how. The Mahomet pair are poised to participate in the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight’s second Honor Flight of the year on Tuesday. They’ll actually leave Mahomet on Monday for a VFW-hosted dinner that evening, Junior explained, as they have to be at Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport about 4 a.m. the next day. Along with about 86 other veterans, they’ll be headed for Washington, D.C., to tour national memorials.
“It’s a full day,” Junior said.
According to a press release from the Honor Flight organization, the veterans and their escorts arrive at the airport at 4:15 a.m. to head for D.C. Key stops will be the World War II, Korean and Vietnam War memorials, plus Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Other stops will be the Lincoln Memorial, the National Air & Space Museum in Chantilly, Va., the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial and the U.S. Air Force Memorial. The group returns to the Springfield airport about 9:30 p.m. that same day to a crowd of the general public, family members and friends welcoming them home.
Those making the trip include World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War-era veterans representing all branches of military service: Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy and National Guard.
John entered the Army National Guard in 1950 and served during the Korean Conflict from 1952-53, he recalled. He served in Eta Jima, Japan. He said his time in the service was quiet compared to others.
“I was an instructor for tank driving and other things. I had it made,” John said.
He exited the service with the rank of sergeant. As his children were growing up, he didn’t talk a lot about his time in the military.
“He told me some stories, and that was about it,” Junior said. “I just knew he was an instructor for tanks. That’s about all.”
Prepping for the trip, John reminisced about some of his days serving his country. In one incident, while training on small arms and a bazooka or rocket launcher, he found out the power of the latter firsthand.
“I was 20 years old and a young tough guy. I didn’t know anything about it, just from the manual,” John said. “So I went out there. You’re supposed to just put the butt of the rifle down on the ground or against a tree. Against my shoulder, I pointed that thing (and fired). I learned a lesson, see. It felt like a mule kicked me.”
John exited the service honorably, receiving the Good Conduct Medal, Korean Service Medal, United National Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
The Champaign native worked at a lumber company and for Eisner’s before serving the Champaign school district for 37 years as a custodian, retiring as director of operations for the district in 1991. Later, Junior went on to serve the school district as well, retiring four years ago after 35 years of service and with the same title once held by his father.
The veteran now lives at The Glenwood in Mahomet so that he can be near Junior, 65, a Mahomet resident since the 1970s. John’s wife, Betty Lucille Ayers, died about four years ago. His other children, a son and a daughter, are deceased.