Paying tribute: Honor Flight returns

ESCANABA – Betty Goulais said she didn’t know what all the fuss was about.

She was in demand as an interview subject from both the print and broadcast media members in attendance at the welcoming reception Tuesday for Upper Peninsula Honor Flight Mission V, which flew to Washington, D.C., Wednesday.

But as the only woman veteran on this mission, Goulais’ wit and wisdom were in popular demand and she graciously agreed to interview upon interview.

Born Elizabeth Logan some 93 years ago in Escanaba, Goulais recalled enlisting in the military when she was 23 years old, in 1943.

“My girlfriend and I decided we wanted to serve,” Goulais said. “We were working as nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago at the time and our chief nurse had been in World War I. She mentioned to us about the service and said to my friend Arlene that we should join.

“She told us to go downtown to the Loop and join the Red Cross because then we could select any branch of the service,” Goulais said. “So that’s what Arlene and I did. We joined the Red Cross, then we picked the Air Corps. Neither of us had been to California and that sounded fancy.”

The pair was sent to Long Beach, Calif., in July 1943.

“We were part of the Air Transport Command,” Goulais said. “I went to Randolph Field in Texas and that’s where I got my wings and became a flight nurse. I only traveled in the states but my girlfriend went to Alaska. I said, ‘I’m from Michigan. Why would I want to go to Alaska?’

“Arlene later told me going to Alaska was the biggest mistake she ever made.”

Goulais was stationed in Homestead, Fla.

“We picked up wounded soldiers and brought them to the hospital closest to their home,” she said. “When I wasn’t doing that, I worked at the hospital on the base.

“The best part of my job was taking care of the wounded soldiers. Some had been in concentration camps,” she said. “It was wonderful to be able to help them.”

In 1947, Goulais left the Air Corps as a second lieutenant and returned home to Escanaba.

“I went back to school, at the University of Michigan, and got my degree in public health,” she said. “Then I got married after that. To Donald.”

Donald Goulais had been a classmate of Betty’s, but the two did not connect until their graduating class had a special gathering years later.

“I met him at our high school reunion in December and the next September, we were married,” she said.

That was Sept. 17, 1949, 64 years to the date of her becoming a media darling.

Donald has passed away, but the couple had two children, a son, Edward, and a daughter, Denise (Goulais) Anzalone. Betty also has five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“They’re all excited about me going on Honor Flight,” she said. “I have been informed I’d better check in when I come back.”

Wednesday marked the fifth mission of U.P. Honor Flight and included 75 veterans, mostly from World War II. More than 400 veterans have been taken to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial – which was dedicated in 2004 – and other patriotic landmarks since the first mission in September 2011.

In addition, the veterans and their guardians – volunteers who pay their for the privilege of escorting an Honor Flight participant – were greeted upon arrival at the gate at Reagan National Airport by patriotic music played by volunteer Andrew J. Leighton.

Then as they arrived at the door that led them to the buses that would bring them around the nation’s capital, an ensemble of Air Force musicians played patriotic and swing-era tunes.

At the day’s final stop at the Air Force Memorial, the U.P. Honor Flight was dazzled by the precision routines of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill team, which performed intricate moves with M1 rifles with bayonets.

The drill team, in turn, was serenaded by the Honor Flight in celebrating the Air Force’s 66th birthday. Then each member received a Yooper chocolate bar as a birthday treat and a thank-you for an entertaining close to a busy, memory-making visit.

Hundreds greeted the flight’s return to Delta County Airport in Escanaba Wednesday night, wildly cheering their heroes’ arrival home.

“It went wonderful,” said Barb Van Rooy, U.P. Honor Flight organizer. “One of the veterans said to me he thought there were seven wonders of the world, but now he knows Honor Flight is the eight wonder of the world.”