Oakhurst dentist Michael C. Horasanian has always been impressed with the Central Valley Honor Flights - three-day trips that provide World War II veterans with a tour of military monuments and Arlington Commentary in Washington, D.C..
Horasanian wanted to raise funds for the program, and even had a patient he wanted to make sure had the opportunity to make the flight - Victor Hamburger, 95, of North Fork.
Horasanian, and his office manager Taryn Williams, came up with the idea of a military appreciation tri-tip barbecue on May 21. The event, attended by nearly 200 people at his office on Crane Valley Road (426), was a big success, raising nearly $7,000. Not only was it enough to guarantee Hamburger a seat on the next Honor Flight, but it covered expenses for five additional veterans.
Hamburger served in the U.S. Army as a Sgt. Technician 4th Grade Cook.
“My food must have been pretty good because a lot of the officers, who could go anywhere they wanted to eat, would come eat in my mess hall and always seemed to like the food we put out,” Hamburger said.
After a little reluctance due to health issues, Hamburger and his niece, Laverne Venagle of Santa Maria, found themselves flying out of Fresno International Airport for Washington on June 29.
“I never thought I’d be able to go on the Honor Flight,” Hamburger said. “I had never received an invitation to go on the flight, and I can’t thank Dr. Horsanian and his staff and people who donated to the event enough for making it possible for me to go on the trip.
“At first, I was a little reluctant to go on the trip because I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with everyone physically for three days,” Hamburger continued. “But Dr. Horsanian, his staff, and my two boys kept telling me ‘you can do it, you can do it,’ and I finally believed them.”
Hamburger called the journey fantastic.
He said the highlight of the trip was seeing the large monument depicting Marines pushing the American flag up on a large pile of rocks at Iwo Jima.
“When I was looking at that monument, in my mind I could see those young Marines raising that flag like it was really happening,” Hamburger said. “It did something to me inside. That statue alone was worth the whole trip.”
The retired cement finisher said Arlington Cemetery and the changing of the guards ceremony was also very beautiful and emotional.
“The marching of those Marines is so precise. They were perfect,” Hamburger said.
His niece Laverne (Hamburger) Venable, 73 of Santa Maria, made the trip with her uncle, and came up with about $1,000 to pay her way.
“I was visiting my aunt and uncle in North Fork when they began talking about the Honor Flight, but neither of Victor’s sons could make the trip, so I said I’ll go, I’ll go,” Laverne said.
Laverne explained that her father Vernal (Victor’s brother) was in WWII in Germany and she was excited both to see the memorials in Washington and to spend time with her Uncle Victor.
“It was wonderful to see all the people who would come up to all the veterans to shake their hands and tell them thank you for their freedom,” Venable said. “Every place we went they had members of the military people lined up to welcome them. There was a water cannon salute when leaving the Fresno Airport and another water cannon salute when we landed in Baltimore. It was a very memorable trip.”
Hamburger and his wife Esther moved to North Fork in 1976 after his retirement. He has lived on his own (and still drives) since the passing of his wife 10 years ago.
His sons, Jim and his wife Betty live in North Fork, and Wayne and his wife Leticia live in Fresno.