By RENEE PRUSI
For The Daily News
WASHINGTON, D.C. - When Norway, Mich., native Wally Evance struck up a conversation with the guy in the next bunk during Seabees training in Providence, Rhode Island, he had no idea he was talking to the man who would become his best friend.
Renee Prusi/Mining Journal Photo
Upper Peninsula Honor Flight participants Elmer Everson, left, and Wally Evance display the identical tattoos they got during World War II. The two Yoopers met by chance in Rhode Island in 1945 and have been best friends since.
Heck, he had no idea at first he was talking to a fellow Yooper.
But indeed, Evance was speaking with Elmer Everson, who hailed from L'Anse.
"That was July 4, 1945," Everson said. "We had gone to separate boot camps, but ended up in this advanced training together in Providence."
Evance said, "After we got through with that, we went to Norfolk, Va., then to Puerto Rico, then to Hawaii, then to Tinian (an island in the Marianas) then to Guam."
"We met each other in Rhode Island, then went all the way through things together," Everson said. "And we've been best friends ever since."
The two took part in Mission V of Upper Peninsula Honor Flight Wednesday, together of course.
That should be no surprise in a friendship that includes a permanent marking.
"We got matching tattoos," Everson said. "It was VJ Day and we were in Honolulu. We weren't drunk, but the guys who did our tattoos were."
They simultaneously roll up their sleeves to reveal the matching tattoos.
"We got 'mother' on them because we figured that was safe, instead of putting a girlfriend's name," Evance said, joining his friend in laughter.
Besides matching tattoos, what has made the friendship last 68 years?
"When I was going to school at Northern, Elmer and his wife would invite me over to dinner," Evance said. "I had a wife and three kids at home and I was going to school, so I didn't have much money. They'd call me over for a meal and wow. It was like going to heaven.
"Through the years, I have been like an uncle to Elmer's kids," he said. "We stay in touch, at least once a month we talk to each other."
"There isn't anything we wouldn't do for each other," Everson said.
"We've stayed close all these years," Evance said. "He's the best friend I've ever had."
When Everson read about the Honor Flight program, he called organizer Barb Van Rooy.
"I asked her to send two applications," he said. "One to me and one to Wally. Barb told me we could stay together and she was true to her word. We have been together on the plane and everything. Stay together, we did."
Evance said the Honor Flight experience has been overwhelmingly wonderful.
"I find it difficult to find the words to express to the Honor Flight people and the donors the thanks that come from the bottom of my heart," he said. "I have never been honored so well in all my life."
This was 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 eighth wonder of the world."