Trip to WWII memorial is 'heaven' for N.C. vets
Posted October 23, 2009 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated August 26, 2010 10:38 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 100 World War II veterans from North Carolina got a long overdue trip to the nation's capital this week to visit the memorial built in their honor.
Former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole organized the trip in honor of her late brother, WWII veteran John Van Hanford Jr.
Dole worked through the nonprofit Honor Flight Network, which has taken over 30,000 World War II veterans to visit the memorial in Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday, the 106 veterans gathered at Charlotte's airport. Some walked with the help of local Rotary Club members; others were in wheelchairs. They were sent off with hugs, laughter and anticipation.
A surprise welcome awaited the veterans in D.C.: applauding Naval officers, a band, singers, USO members and passengers who stopped to thank them.
"Thanks for freedom," "God bless you," passersby told the veterans.
Some veterans cried at the greeting; others danced.
Police and bikers with the Vietnam veterans group Rolling Thunder escorted them to the memorial, which honors the 16 million who served in the U.S. armed forces and the more than 400,000 who died.
There, a Marine Corps drill team performed at a ceremony.
Frank Capps was awarded a long overdue Purple Heart for injuries sustained in 1944.
Above all, the veterans remembered.
Sam Adams, who served in the Pacific, recalled General Douglas McArthur's words to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"If we go in now, we can whip 'em," Adams quoted.
He remembered a racial harmony that didn't survive back in the States.
"We fought together, ate together, slept together, but when we came across the pond to the United States, it was night and day again," Adams said.
Veterans said they were amazed with the memorial and all it represents.
The experience meant "more than I ever thought it could," said Bertha Dupre, a veteran who is still collecting new experiences. At age 87, he is a senior at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte majoring in English and art.
"I'm really quite moved with all that had been done and all that we were missing," Seth French said.
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the veterans sat in silence, honoring comrades who fell during the war or died since then.
Veterans talked about the memorial as a place of healing, but mostly kept their private memories to themselves.
The plane ride home was quieter as the veterans reflected.
"It's the closest thing I've been to heaven in a long time," Dr. David Young said.