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."
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.
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.
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.
A regional offshoot, Honor Flight Historic Triangle Virginia (HFHTVA), was founded in December, 2008 by current president Bob Doherty, and is run by a handful of volunteers. They have transported more than 350 Virginia veterans in four trips since then.
Because of the areas' proximity to the Capitol, the "flight" is a full day motor coach excursion, currently offered twice annually. Their next Honor Flight trip is scheduled for April, 2011. Trained volunteer "Guardians" assist the veterans for the entire day, and a staff of certified Emergency Medical Technicians and/or paramedics ensures everyone's safety.
My dad, Ralph Butler (87), Newport News, participated in HFHTVA's April 2010 trip, and I accompanied him as a Guardian. He served in the Army Air Corps, a photogrammetrist, later trained in combat photo intelligence, who read aerial photos of places like Dachau.
caravan was made up of three motor coaches and an ambulance, and was
accompanied on the first leg of the trip by a police escort.
The veterans were invited to wear their uniforms if they still fit!
In addition to the WWII Memorial, other stops on our trip included Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial.
Our motor coach passed by the new U.S. Institute of Peace building, under construction.
WW II Memorial
World War 2 Monument, National Mall and Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument
(Image by Public domain, courtesy wiki commons) Details DMCA
The granite and bronze World War II monument encompasses 7.4 acres, about the size of a football field, and is defined by a large oval located in the center of the mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Most of the $172 million to build it was raised through private contributions.
At its north and south entrances, huge, 43-foot archways represent the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of the war. Inside the oval is a wall with 4,000 gold stars, each star representing 100 American deaths.
One of the 24 bronze bas reliefs that flank the ceremonial entrance
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler) Details DMCA
With memorials already in place to Korean and Viet Nam veterans, everyone agreed that WW2 vets were not only entitled to a memorial, but that it was inexplicably overdue. Nevertheless, both the location of the memorial as well as the style, have been topics of strong debate, even among veterans.
Placing the huge memorial in the center of the mall's wide, 2-mile stretch from the Capitol building to the Washington monument raised controversy. The unencumbered open space was originally designed to symbolize freedom and provided an area sympathetic to the unfettered gathering of the people.
Many iconic gatherings on the mall have been characterized by a large mass of citizens coming together in unity, including Marian Anderson's 1939 recital from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the Million Man March, the Million Mom March, and the display of the AIDS quilt.
Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech on the mall
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Before the monument was built, USA Today said, "There's nothing wrong with the proposed National World War II Memorial that a change of location wouldn't fix."
Seven possible sites had been considered, and the Constitution Gardens site was initially selected. According to the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, "the Memorial was moved to the Rainbow Pool site " without proper public notice ... (and) the design violates the National Historic Preservation Act by adversely changing this historic area."
Ironically, the strongly militaristic design of the memorial has been compared to the totalitarian architecture of the old Soviet Union and to the Third Reich style of Hitler's architect, Albert Speer.
Not all veterans were in support of the design of the monument, nor of the location. "I would gladly give up my Purple Heart for doing away with that horrible desecration. ..." Clark Ashby, 78, told a crowd of protesters outside the Capitol before the final vote on the location.
But while the memorial has been challenged artistically, aesthetically, and for its placement, there is no disagreement about appreciating the veterans.
The Wall Street Journal said. "Goodness knows, we have nothing against honoring World War II veterans. " What the heroes of World War II really deserve is a monument conceived with more sensitivity to the other 'landmarks of the American experiment and reviewed with more respect for the democratic ideals they fought and died to defend."
On the Lighter Side
Nevertheless there were humorous moments at the memorial. Many veterans got a big chuckle out of seeing Kilroy, the familiar wartime icon, inscribed in a nearly hidden section of the monument.
Another amusement, at least for the women, was the natural result of the gender balance of visitors. In an unexpected turnaround, it was the men who had to wait on long lines for the bathroom. Inside the ladies' rest room, an instant sisterhood blossomed, with hilarious banter about the unexpected but welcome reversal of fortune.
A Warm Welcome
Veterans visiting the Memorial have been welcomed by such dignitaries as Bob Dole and Colin Powell. Elizabeth Dole, (North Carolina's first female Senator), who is known for her frequent visits with the Honor Flight groups, arrived while we were there.
Dole was the perfect example of the real reason that inspired the memorial: the opportunity to offer thanks. These senior veterans melted beneath her lavish appreciation and generous Southern charm, and I saw a flicker of the idealistic and visionary young men they had been, those many decades ago.
Dole proved that personal, heartfelt gratitude trumps other attributes like location or artistic design.
It is not necessary to be pro-war in order to be pro-veteran. War experiences, like other aspects of life, are personal, social, contextual and complex, and are often filled with unexpected silver linings. And from Revolutionary times to the present, one of the benefits of wartime has been the opportunity for people with significantly fewer rights, such as women and people of color, to make huge strides forward in their circumstances--strides that had been impossible to make during peacetime.
A Surprise on the Return Trip
The return trip included a visit and dinner at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
Paul Hunter, 90, of Newport News, VA, was touched by both the color guard and the receiving line of military personnel who shook the hands of every veteran and thanked them as they entered the museum.
Hunter served in the reserves. After WW2 vets and terminally ill veterans of any war had been accepted on the trip, the remaining seats were made available to other veterans, as well as reservists.
89-year-old John Yeates of Newport News, piloted a C-47 in WW2, and towed gliders, dropped paratroops and cargo, picked up medical evacuees, and provided air support at Bastogne at the Battle of the Bulge. Like Hunter, Yeates said that one of the most important moments of the trip for him was the welcome that he and the other veterans received at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, where, he noted, the vets were applauded for their service.
Unbeknownst to the veterans, the HFHTVA had sent requests to the relatives listed on the application forms. Family members and friends were invited to write notes of appreciation to the veterans, and send them directly to Honor Flight.
Mail call was held on the bus ride back home and every veteran received a large envelope.
Each envelope was filled with cards and notes from friends and family, hand drawn cards from a group of schoolchildren, and a nostalgic vintage photo of a pin up girl. The bus grew quiet as each veteran read and digested the words of appreciation.
Some received notes from friends they hadn't heard from in years. One veteran received a note from a longtime estranged son, which brought tears and healed old family wounds.
The day had been full of many extraordinary moments. Still, some participants characterized the mail call as the most meaningful event on what most agreed was "one of the best days" of their lives.
Several veterans noted that the first time they had ever been thanked for their service was during their Honor Flight trip.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them" and the Honor Flight program is an inspiring example.
ABOUT HONOR FLIGHT:
REGIONAL HONOR FLIGHT- VIRGINIA:
Virginia's regional Honor Flight organization is Honor
Flight Historic Triangle Virginia (HFHTVA) www.honorflighthtva.org
#5 is scheduled for Saturday, 30 April 2011. Applications for local veterans
are available for download from the "Veterans Applications" page of
The program operates entirely on funds from individual and corporate donors. HFHTVA deeply appreciates the local sponsorship by the Langley Federal Credit Union, Towne Bank, Sertoma Club of Norfolk, Mearsk Shipping Line, DAV Chapter 13, and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.
To make a financial contribution to HFHTVA to help more Virginia veterans take this once-in-a-lifetime trip, please visit the "Donations" page of the website.
NATIONAL HONOR FLIGHT:
National Honor Flight Network: http://www.honorflight.org/
National Waiting List:
Currently there are over 9,500 WWII Veterans on the national waiting list. (Note: the national list is different from the regional lists. Some local hubs maintain a separate waiting list for the veterans in their areas. For example, in Virginia, there is no waiting list needed as veterans generally obtain seats on the next upcoming trip.) The total of those on the national waiting list combined with those maintained by individual hubs exceeds 30,000. There is some overlap of veteran departure areas, with some veterans choosing to depart on a flight from outside of their local hub, and some veterans also travel to spend winters in warmer climates. Therefore, concrete waiting list figures are difficult to obtain.
National Financial Need:
In order to meet the requests from "Lone Eagles" (geographically isolated veterans throughout the United States), and "TLCs" (terminally ill veterans of all conflicts who desire to visit their memorial before they pass away), the Honor Flight Network must raise about $5,600,000.00. This figure does not include associated administrative costs (less than 10%, or about $560,000.)
Guardians (escorts) are expected to make a contribution to the HFN to cover some of the costs associated with their travel expenses. Interested parties can contact the HFN HQ toll free at 877 FLY-VETS (877 359-8387) or view the official national website for Honor Flight Network at www.honorflight.org. Information concerning local HFN Hubs can be found by visiting the "Programs" page. Donations can be made at the site by clicking on the donations link on the home page.
The World War II Memorial: A Grateful Nation Remembers, by Douglas Brinkley, Ed. (2004, Smithsonian Books.)
Thanks to Rotary Club for honor flight. Published: Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 3:30 a.m. Accessed Oct. 29, 2010.
National Coalition to Save Our Mall. Accessed Oct. 29, 2010 http://www.savethemall.org/wwii
Monumental Mistake, Editorial by The Boston Globe May 27, 2001. Accessed Oct 29 2010.
Don't Mar the Mall, The New York Times Editorial, September 24, 2000. Accessed Oct 29 2010. http://www.savethemall.org/media/mar.html
The World War II Memorial in Washington DC. Accessed Oct. 29, 2010
Mauling the Mall, Review & Outlook, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 15, 2000. Accessed Oct 29, 2010. http://www.savethemall.org/media/mauling.html
WWII MEMORIAL MISPLACED Editorial, USA Today , July 20, 2000. Accessed Oct. 29, 2010.
WRONG THING, WRONG TIME, Editorial by The Los Angeles Times , July 10, 2000. Accessed Oct. 29, 2010.
Critics of World War II Memorial go back to court, By Don Feder, Boston Herald, June 25, 2001. Accessed Oct. 29, 2010.