Soldiers Honor World War II Veterans

October 14, 2008

Veterans of World War II, are getting older and many of them are no longer with us. Many have never visited the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. that is dedicated to honoring their service. Last Wednesday, over 600 of these proud warriors visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, as part of the Honor Flight. As they arrived at Reagan National Airport, they were greeted by current Soldiers who lined the hallways and applauded them. The Soldiers then escorted them to the memorial located on the National Mall. The Soldiers greeting them were members of the G-3 directorate at the Pentagon, the 249th Engineer Battalion from Fort Belvoir, Va and the 3/312 Training Support Battalion at Fort Meade, Md. The Soldiers spent the day with the Veterans, often comparing notes with them about their service.

Photo by Don Wagner. World War II artilleryman James Wangen arrives at Reagan National Airport Oct. 8 to the applause of Soldiers from G3 and the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power) at Fort Belvoir, Va. The veterans were flown in as part of the Honor Flight Network, which transports veterans from across the United States to the National World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.

“All the Veterans really want to do is interact with the Soldiers of today,” said William Clarkson, a retired sergeant major, who now serves as the G-3 Engineer organizational integrator. He engineered the participation of many of the active-duty Troops in Wednesday’s “Honor Flight” visit of World War II Veterans.1

Since the World War II Memorial first opened four years ago, the Honor Flight organization has chartered planes and busses to ensure that World War II Veterans are able to see their memorial. This is done at no charge to the Veteran. On this particular visit, groups of World War II Veterans were brought to Washington D.C. from Georgia, New York, New Mexico, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, Tennessee and Minnesota.

A distinguished guest who made the trek to the memorial to meet the Veterans and thank them, was for Kansas Senator Bob Dole, himself a World War II Veteran, who was injured during his service. While he’s made many visits to the Memorial to meet with Veterans, he said that each visit is an emotional one for him.

“It’s a great emotional experience for all of these guys,” Dole said. “I always ask them if they shed a tear while they’re here,” he said. “They all do.”2

Honor Flight, Inc has worked hard to ensure that the Veterans of World War II are able to go to Washington, D.C. and see their memorial. The volunteers and donors of the program have done great things to ensure that this becomes a reality for these Veterans, who might not otherwise be able to visit the Memorial.

The Honor Flight program was conceived by Earl Morse, a Physician Assistant and Retired Air Force Captain, to honor veterans he has taken care of for the past 27 years. After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Earl was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. In May of 2004, the WWII Memorial was finally completed and dedicated in Washington DC which quickly became the topic of discussion among his WWII Veteran patients. Earl repeatedly asked these veterans if they would ever travel out to visit THEIR memorial. Most felt that eventually, somehow, they would make it to DC perhaps with a family member or friend. As summer turned to fall, and then winter, these same veterans returned to the clinic for their follow-up visits. Earl asked if they accomplished their dream of visiting the WWII Memorial. By now, for most of the veterans queried, reality had settled in; it was clear to most that it simply wasn’t financially or physically possible for them to make the journey. Most of these senior heroes are in their 80s and lacked the physical and mental wherewithal to complete a trip on their own. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time to complete a 3-4 day trip to DC. Earl could tell that the majority of the veterans had given up all hope of ever visiting the memorial that was specifically created to honor their services and the services of their fellow comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice. That’s when Earl decided that there has to be a way to get these heroes to DC to see their memorial.3

To find out more about Honor Flights, or perhaps donate your time, some money or air miles, please visit their website.

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