BAKER CITY — When Dave Cross found out that his Baker City neighbor Kenneth Anderson was a World War II veteran, Cross thought almost immediately of Honor Flight.
And when Cross learned that Anderson had never been to Washington, D.C., Cross knew what he had to do.
And now, several months later, the pair is preparing to board a plane for the nation’s capital.
Cross, himself a military veteran who served in the Army for 27 years, will accompany Anderson, 95, who served in the Navy, on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C.
They will visit the World War II and Vietnam memorials, the National Archives, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and the U.S. Capitol, among other destinations.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Anderson said. “I’m proud to have been nominated.”
Honor Flight is a nationwide program that pays for veterans of World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars, to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials for their wars along with many other sites.
Cross, who lived in Sumpter for about four years before moving to Baker City three years ago, already knew about Honor Flight before he met Anderson, who lives just across the street.
“I consider it an honor to accompany Mr. Anderson on this flight,” Cross, 61, said.
As the two became friends, Cross learned that Anderson, who enlisted in the Navy in November 1944, just before his 18th birthday, had never visited the nation’s capital.
This winter, Cross got in touch with Honor Flight of Central Oregon, one of 130 region hubs for the nationwide network.
He found out that although the upcoming trip was already booked, World War II veterans have priority for flights.
Which is understandable, he said, since the youngest of these veterans are, like Anderson, in their 90s.
“We’re losing some every day,” Cross said.
Next, Cross had to talk with Anderson and find out if his neighbor was interested in the program.
“He said, ‘I’m up for that,’” Cross said of Anderson. “And here we are.”
The pair drove to Redmond Tuesday, Sept. 20, to catch their flight.
They’ll spend two full days — Sept. 22 and Sept. 23 — touring Washington, D.C., before returning over the weekend.
Two veterans meet
Cross said he introduced himself to Anderson after noticing that his neighbor, despite being in his early 90s, was very active, working in his yard and driving where he needed to go.
“I said, I need to get to know this guy,” Cross said.
During one of those conversations, Cross learned that he shared a military background with Anderson.
Anderson, who has lived in Baker City since 1989, grew up a long ways from any ocean, in Duluth, Minnesota.
And although he wanted to enlist in the Navy after he graduated from high school in June 1944 — the same month the Allies invaded Nazi-controlled Europe at Normandy — his mother wouldn’t allow it.
Instead he worked on a ship hauling iron ore across the Great Lakes.
After learning the sailor’s trade, Anderson enlisted in the Navy. He attended engineering school, then was assigned first to a ship that was being repaired at Kirkland, Washington, before shipping off to the Aleutian Islands off Alaska.
During a November 2020 interview with the Herald, Anderson described his wartime experience as “lucky.”
“We had submarine scares a few times but nobody ever shot a torpedo at us,” he said.
Anderson was stationed in San Diego, a motor machinist’s mate third class, in August 1945, preparing to participate in the U.S. invasion of Japan.
America’s military leaders expected the operation would be the costliest, in lives, of the war. Anderson would likely have been assigned to a landing craft, making sure its diesel engine kept running to deliver Marines to a beach. He knew how dangerous an amphibious assault would be.
But it never happened.
While Anderson was training, word came that Japan had surrendered after American B-29s dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After his military service ended in July 1946, Anderson attended the Michigan College of Mining and Technology and earned a degree in mining engineering and geology in 1950. Since then he has worked at mines around the country, both as a mine manager, consultant and at times as a mine owner.