WASHINGTON — It’s not too often that when a memorial is built in someone’s honor that those people get to see the memorial in person.
By the end of the day, 92 veterans, some who served in World War II and the Korean War, got to see the memorials that were built in their honor. The Clarksburg Honor Flight took these veterans to Washington, D.C., at no cost to them to visit nine memorials.
Those veterans, who are mostly from North Central West Virginia, experienced a day of emotion and pride.
Some veterans looked at the memorials showing no emotion, but knew first-hand why those memorials were built and knew what it was like to experience those wars. Others showed their emotion with smiles and some even tears.
The first shock came when the plane landed May 10 in Washington D.C. As the veterans walked off the plane, they were greeted by hundreds of people including several servicemen.
With smiles on their faces, veterans walked through the line shaking hands and continuously hearing “thank you for your service.”
Several veterans said they were surprised by the welcome after they landed in Washington, D.C.
“I was not expecting that,” World War II veteran Robert Lefever said. “I never got anything like that; it was wonderful.”
The first stop on the trip was to the World War II Memorial.
Libby Stout, who served in World War II, had never been to the memorial that was built in appreciation for the service she gave.
“It was so nice that they thought of us,” she said.
Stout said it’s amazing to her that these memorials were built.
“They did a really good job,” she said.
The second stop was to see the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.
Joseph Tatterson, a Korean War veteran, said the Korean War Memorial brought back several memories from when he served.
“The green that they have at the memorial reminds me of the swampy landscape I saw during the war,” Tatterson said.
At the Vietnam War Memorial, although there were no Vietnam veterans on the trip, other veterans searched for names of fallen servicemen that they knew. Being at the Vietnam War Memorial was emotional for some as they touched the wall that depicted thousands of names of those lost.
After lunch, the veterans were taken to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. Also included was a tour of Washington D.C., and a visit to the Marine Corps War Memorial.
While at the Marine Corps War Memorial, only those who were Marines could get off the bus due to the weather conditions.
While on the grounds of the iconic statue, one Marine began to cry.
Retired Marine Charles Holtz of Clarksburg was overcome with emotion because he served on Iwo Jima.
After taking a picture near the statue, Holtz was brought to tears.
He said where he was standing for the picture was about the same distance he was standing when the iconic picture of the servicemen holding up the American flag was taken on Iwo Jima.
“I knew two of those men who were in the original picture,” Holtz said.
“I’m just so happy to be alive.”
Holtz was the only veteran on the trip that served on Iwo Jima.
Next stop was the Arlington Cemetery.
Here the veterans were taken to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers Memorial.
Luckily, they were able to witness the precise changing of the guard.
Veterans along with the public watched in silence as the sergeant inspected the incoming guard and determined he was fit for duty. The incoming guard then relieved the guard on duty.
With three female veterans on the trip, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, those women began having flashbacks of when they served.
Arlene Geso, of Bridgeport, met a current female service member Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexandra Kemp. Within minutes of meeting each other, the two discovered they had a lot in common.
They found that both trained at the same facility and held the same position in the Navy. When Geso served, she was a corpsman and enlisted in Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services (WAVES) in 1952. Kemp’s current position is a corpsman at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and she has served for the past 10 years.
Kemp was among the sailors who volunteered to escort the veterans throughout the day.
Last stop on the trip before dinner was the United States Air Force Memorial. Due to the rain, not a lot of veterans were able to get off the bus, but plenty still did while wearing red ponchos.
While on the buses headed to the airport in Washington D.C., the veterans were given mail. Family and friends of the veterans were contacted before the trip by organizers and were asked to write letters to their veteran.
Korean War veteran Donald Trimble said he was “very touched” with the letters he received from school kids and family members.
“It reminded me of mail call,” he said.
“Some of these veterans didn’t get mail when they served,” Jane Julian, director of Honor Flight, said. “Some would stay in the back during mail call because they knew they weren’t going to get any mail. Giving them mail from their loved ones is really special to them.”
To start the long day, which started at 6 a.m., veterans and guardians enjoyed breakfast after checking in at the North Central West Virginia Airport.
When arriving home around 8:30 p.m. May 10 at the North Central West Virginia Airport, the veterans were greeted by hundreds of people, even with rain coming down hard, all there to welcome them home. The East Fairmont Busy Bee Band and Honeybees, West Virginia Honor Guard and others waited anxiously for the plane to land and the veterans to walk out.
Veterans getting off the plane couldn’t believe that so many people came out to welcome them. Even with the rain at the end of the day, Julian said it was a successful trip.
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