Honor Flight sends local WWII-era veterans to Washington

Two World War II-era military veterans from Pine Bluff will be saluted Saturday with an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C.

Pine Bluff High School graduates Robert Rhinehart Jr. and Kenneth Theis will be accompanied in the venture by about 80 other Arkansas WWII-era vets as part of the national Honor Flight Network, which transports former servicemen and women to the national World War II Memorial. Escorting the Pine Bluff pair as their guardian will be Theis’ daughter, Ellen Nelson of Rogers.

While in Washington for the day, the group also will visit the Korean War and Vietnam War veterans memorials.

“I’m thrilled to be able to go,” said the 90-year-old Theis, who served in the Navy aboard a destroyer escort in the Pacific from 1943-46. “I’m looking forward to seeing the World War II Memorial and the other sites. I found out that I had been selected for the trip only about three months ago.”

Theis, who returned to Pine Bluff after the war and eventually retired as a certified public accountant, said he’s always been proud of serving his country.

“I value my time with the military,” he said, “and having my daughter going on this trip to Washington with me will make it even better.”

Rhinehart, 85, joined the Army in 1945 and had no combat experience but served in a security role in Germany soon after the Nazi forces were defeated there. In addition to his primary duties there, Rhinehart — a student of longtime PBHS band Director R.B. “Scrubby” Watson — performed with the 29th Army Band.

“It’s a real honor for me to have been chosen for this trip,” said Rhinehart, expressing a measure of disbelief that the war’s end is nearing its 70th anniversary. “It will be nice to be in Washington with some of my buddies who were in Germany with me all those many years ago.”

Now retired after a lengthy career in education, Rhinehart earned degrees in European history and electrical engineering after the war.

Rhinehart said he especially enjoyed a recent meeting in which the Arkansas veterans making the journey related their war experiences.

“I couldn’t add to that conversation since I didn’t see combat,” he said. “This trip isn’t something I think I earned, because I didn’t. I think it’ll be a super experience. I feel great for the combat veterans more than me. I’m just honored to be associated with them.”