Local News

Triangle nonprofit honors vets with trip to memorials

Posted April 5, 2011 5:44 p.m. EDT
Updated April 7, 2011 8:10 a.m. EDT

— Veterans of World War II and other wars spent Wednesday in Washington, D.C., visiting the memorials built for their service, thanks to the to the nonprofit group Triangle Flight of Honor.

Among the 100 local veterans being honored were a Pearl Harbor survivor, two Silver Star winners, two veterans of WWII and the Korean and Vietnam wars, and a set of three brothers from Johnston County who served in the South Pacific.

They spent the day touring the war memorials and other monuments in D.C.

Veteran Vernon Hicks, who's in his 90s, said he'd like a trip to the war memorials to teach a 16-year-old friend lessons about his generation's sacrifices and struggles.

"I'd like to step up to him and say, 'Now listen, there's that wall, and those are names on there. They died so that you could have a chance of enjoying life,'" Hicks said. "And when you want to do something, you look back over you shoulder at those guys, and say, 'Is it right, or is it wrong?'"

Bill Bowles remembered being held as a prisoner of war for five months during World War II.

"We'd been in there for all these months, and we hadn't changed clothes, socks, underwear or nothing," Bowles said. "I survived it. I'll be 92 in October."

Charles Irving Jr., of Raleigh, recalled a time of harsh segregation in the Army.

"On one occasion, the Battle of the Bulge, they called for volunteers. That bullet didn't know any color," he said. "But after the Bulge, they went back to their segregated outfits."

Irving said he was honored to serve alongside his brave comrades, both white and black.

"This is my country," he said, adding that he was "overwhelmed" and "speechless" during his first visit to the National WWII Memorial Wednesday.

Triangle Flight of Honor raises funds in the community in order to provide the day-long trip at no cost to veterans.

WRAL viewers donated $56,000 this year to help sponsor the flight.

The veterans' trip began with an enthusiastic welcome from current Marines and soldiers and the Patriot Guard Riders of NC at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Their plane took off under a water cannon salute from firefighters.

The U.S. Marines drill team performed for the veterans on the parade grounds of the Marines Barracks.

Upon their return, veterans were greeted with a homecoming celebration in RDU's parking lot atrium. 

"It was fantastic," WWII veteran John Young said. 

Two more Flights of Honor are planned this spring – one on April 19 and another May 4.