Aging veterans visit D.C.
HUNTINGTON -- The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., didn't become a reality until the last decade.
That meant the men and women who served alongside those who died in the war were close to being 80 years old when it was dedicated in 2004. Traveling at that age is neither easy nor always affordable for seniors.
That led physician assistant and retired Air Force Capt. Earl Morse to create the Honor Flight Network. In 2005, six small planes flew out of Springfield, Ohio, taking 12 World War II veterans to D.C. to visit the memorial.
Eight years later, flights are departing airports several times a week. On Saturday, one left Huntington's Tri-State Airport at 8 a.m. carrying about 50 veterans from World War II and the Korean War, along with about 60 caregivers and guardians.
"It will bring back memories, some good, some bad," said Norman Camp Jr., a Russell, Ky., resident who served under General George S. Patton in the Battle of the Bulge. "We lost some guys."
Huntington resident John Skeans also served in the Battle of the Bulge. At 92 years old, he said it means a lot that an organization would raise funds to allow veterans to take the trip at no cost to them.
"It's amazing, emotional," said Skeans' granddaughter, Melinda Meadows. "He's been excited. He didn't get much sleep (Friday) night."
Fort Gay resident and Korean War veteran Hubert Castle said, at 81 years old, he never thought he'd get to see the memorial. He shared his appreciation for Honor Flight and knew exactly what he was going to do when he got to the memorial.
"There was a fellow I went to school with who was killed in Korea," Castle said. "I want to look his name up."
Morse was at the Tri-State Airport and flew with the bunch to D.C., where four other groups would meet and tour the memorials together. As the veterans, some in wheelchairs, made their way through airport security, Morse called them his family.
"They were incredibly selfless, humble people," he said. "And for World War II, they waited 60 years to have a memorial and no way for them to go see it. Something had to change."
Pat Walker of Sugarcreek, Ohio, is a Vietnam veteran who serves as bus captain, chauffeuring veterans to the airports for Honor Flight. He called it a great honor to be a part of the trips and witness the emotion and excitement.
"They are all beaming with pride," Walker said.
He said although there are many flights and tours taking place, it's getting harder and harder to fill the planes because there just aren't as many World War II veterans still alive.
On the Honor Flight website, it notes that 800 die every day, with all of them expected to be gone by the end of the decade.
"This trip is their last hurrah, the last time they will be recognized as the conquering victors that collectively and literally saved the world," the website states. "To this day most of Europe is free, most of the Pacific is free, and America is free. This freedom came at a very high cost. We can never repay them for what they've done. An Honor Flight is simply a small token of our appreciation for everything they've done."
For more information or to donate to Honor Flight, visit www.honorflight.org or call Jane Julian, a Scottown, Ohio, resident, who works for the organization from her home, at 740-451-0615.
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