Flag at Arlington National Cemetery by Meryl Ann Butler
After years of discussion, over a half century of waiting, and a great deal of controversy, World War II veterans have been honored with a memorial in Washington DC, completed in 2004.
16 million served in the Armed Forces of the U.S. during World War II, although as late as the fall of 1939, the U.S. Army numbered less than 190,000, and ranked 17th in the world.
Now volunteers are transporting senior veterans by the thousands to Washington.
Ira T. Tucker of Northport, MS, said, "I have been to many cities and countries of the world, but, without question, this is the trip that I will remember the most."
Al French (R) with Ben Franklin reenactor by Al French
Alexander French, 88, of Newport News, VA, (Combat Engineer, Army Corps of Engineers) said that the trip was easily one of the half dozen most important experiences of his life. He had lived and worked in the DC area for 30 years, catching glimpses of the Iwo Jima memorial from a distance, but he hadn't realized it was possible to see it up close until his Honor Flight motor coach drove right up to it.
Iwo Jima Memorial by Meryl Ann Butler
French, a widower, got another bittersweet surprise. At the memorial, the bus parked in exactly the same place that he and the gal who would become his wife had parked on their first visit to see the cherry blossoms together, many decades ago.
Honor Flight History
In 2005, Earl Morse, a Veterans' Clinic physician's assistant and Retired Air Force Captain, listened as his WW2 veteran patients spoke of wanting to see the newly completed memorial. Some of them had never even seen their nation's capitol.
But most had no means to make the substantial trip from their homes in Ohio. WW2 vets are now in their 80's and 90's, and more than 1000 die every day. Morse wanted them to have the opportunity to see their memorial.
As a private pilot, an idea about a special contribution began to emerge. The first two veterans Morse offered to fly to the memorial broke down and cried, as they accepted his offer that seemed, to them, to be miraculous. His dream grew to six small planes that flew twelve World War II veterans from Ohio to Washington DC in May, 2005.
Aircraft at sunrise preparing to take veterans to Washington. by Honor Flight
Morse co-founded Honor Flight with Jeff Miller. The Honor Flight Network now has hubs in 99 cities across 34 states, and has transported over 54,000 WWII veterans on expense-paid trips to see the memorial.
Oscar winner Clint Eastwood and country music singer Trace Adkins have both recorded public service videos about the national project.