Flight of Honor takes veterans to see WWII memorial
Posted October 7, 2010 5:39 a.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2010 7:12 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Nearly 100 local World War II veterans traveled on Thursday to see the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C.
The nonprofit Triangle Flight of Honor provided the all-expenses-paid, day-long trip for veterans to see the memorial built in their honor. They also saw the Iwo Jima, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials.
WRAL viewers donated more than $50,000 to sponsor the trip and two others.
"They are the reason we are here. The sacrifice they made is the reason we have the freedom we have today," said Thom Dillard, of the Triangle Flight of Honor.
Director Sunny Johnson said these trips give the group – veterans who range in age from 84 to 97 years old and include two women – a sense of closure and a chance to tell their stories.
"They're reminiscing, and they're thinking about their troop members that didn't necessarily come home after the war," Johnson said.
A crowd including other veterans and active-duty soldiers, Marines and sailors greeted the veterans as they arrived at a flag-covered entrance at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Thursday morning. People lined up on top of the parking deck to see their flight take off, and RDU firefighters shot a water arch over their plane.
A crowd also waited to greet the veterans in Reagan National Airport in D.C.
Air Force veteran Everette Jones said the send-off contrasted sharply with the welcome he got when he arrived back in Raleigh after serving in the Pacific.
"It means a whole lot," Jones said. "When I came out of the service and was discharged, I came to Raleigh on a bus, and (there was) nobody to greet you or nothing. I hopped the bus and went home."
Norma Schrader, of the WWII Navy Volunteer Force, said the trip to the memorial was overwhelming.
"You don't think it's ever going to happen. It's wonderful," Schrader said. "There are fewer and fewer of us now."
At the Okinawa tribute, former Marine DC Lawson consoled a woman as she grieved for her father.
"He fought a good battle, I tell you that," Lawson said. "It was the toughest we ever fought. Twenty-five thousand Marines (were) killed there. It was a horrendous battle."
Now in their 80s and 90s, the veterans said they felt lucky again to touch a place that honors a war the whole country fought.
"This is a tribute to a great group of men. They fought their hearts out. Nobody gave up. Nobody quit," Lawson said.
The public is invited to welcome the veterans back home later Thursday at a ceremony in the airport's parking garage atrium at 7:30 p.m. The N.C. National Guard Color Guard will salute the veterans, and the Cardinal Gibbons High School marching band will perform.
The Flight of Honor organization has arranged flights for veterans from across North Carolina and the nation to see the WWII memorial. Thursday's flight was the first from the Triangle. Another flight was scheduled for this fall, and another in the spring.
Flight of Honor organizers want as many of the aging veterans – many of whom are ill or on fixed incomes – as possible to see the WWII memorial, which was finished only in 2004.
WRAL News will have live coverage of the Triangle Flight of Honor as it returns to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport from Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Watch the evening newscasts for complete coverage.