World War II Veterans are a special breed. When they came home from a war won, they didn’t ask for, want or expect accolades and parades. They just wanted to come home, go back to work and start a family. That’s what the men in the attached photographs did. I spend the day Wednesday with 35 veterans of that last world war, and spending the day with them was my honor.
The group is called Honor Flight and since the World War II Memorial in our nation’s Capitol open in 2005, it has been their mission to get as many veterans to the memorial as they possibly could. They raise money and spend it on plane tickets and charter buses and box lunches. That’s what’s needed to get these men to Washington, D.C., feed them a simple lunch, and takes them to this special place that pays tribute to the men and women who any historian would agree helped save western democracy.
It was a long day, in fact 15 hours long from take-off to landing. The veterans ranged in age from 84 to 94 and from foot soldiers to sailors to Marines to members of the Army Air Corps. Many would never have seen the memorial without this trip. World War II lasted a little over four years, and it took 13 years to finally get this overdue memorial built. When the men found the Alabama pillar among the 56 pillars that circle the memorial, they took pictures and visited with folks who listened to their stories and accepted the sincere thanks of people who approached them. Sen. Bob Dole, who served the state of Kansas for 35 years and served us all in World War II, came to see the Alabama veterans. I’m told that Sen. Dole, who’ll be 85 soon, comes to the memorial whenever an Honor Flight group is there. Sen. Dole received serious wounds in the war and who better to greet these men and women?
After visiting the World War II Memorial, the veterans also were taken to the Korean War Memorial nearby and the Iwo Jima Memorial across the Potomac in Arlington. It was a long, tiring day. I complained about being tired, I heard a few volunteers complain of tired feet, but not once… not once did I hear a veteran say one word about fatigue, tired feet or hunger. I imagine when you look Hitler and Hirohito’s armies in the eye, a long day or a long time on your feet is not something you complain about.
On the way home I ended up next to an 84-year-old veteran named Frank. We hadn’t spoken, but were just riding from Washington to the airport in Baltimore. One of the leaders of the Honor Flight group came back to where we were seated and gave me an envelope with some old black and white photos of the some of the men during the war. As I looked through them I came upon a 5x7 photograph of a handsome sailor kneeling on the beach at Pensacola just after his basic boot camp training. He was a good-looking rascal with dark hair and piercing eyes and a crooked grin. I looked at the picture for a moment, then showed it to Frank and I said, “Wonder what ever happened to this guy?” “Right now, he’s sitting by you on this bus,” Frank answered.
It was Frank 65 years ago, and now sitting next to me on a bus in our nation’s Capitol. I asked him too many questions about that young man and what kind of life he’d had. Frank was successful, still is, loved his country and still does. I was honored to sit next to Frank yesterday, honored to hear his stories, honored to hear once again what made men like him so special then and so special now. I’m glad I ended up next to Frank; I hope he’s glad he ended up next to me. It was the best day I’ve had in a long, long time.
My stories about Honor Flight will air in a few weeks on August 8, 9 and 10. I’m writing the stories in my brain; something tells me they’re really already written.
I’ll see you tonight at 4:30, 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00 p.m.
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