First Honor Flight of the season takes WWII Vets to DC

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - World War II veterans from all over the Tri-State got the flight of their lives Tuesday.

They took part in the very first honor flight of the season and spent the day, seeing every war memorial in Washington, D.C..

A total of 70 veterans went, accompanied by 79 guardians. These are folks who have pledged to stay by their vet's side and help them through every leg of their journey.

The "Simply Money Foundation", along with Honor Flight Tri-State, and literally thousands of volunteers from all over our area, helped raise money to send the men and women to D.C..

Videographer A.J. Moore and Reporter Stefano DiPietrantonio were the only news team on-board and captured the experience.

It was a long day for everyone. Folks had to be at the airport at 6:30 Tuesday morning, and once they boarded the private charter jet, there was literally no stopping, until they got back on the plane to go home later that evening.

Keep in mind, many of these vets had come home from war, started families and got on with their lives. They never got any fanfare beyond a handshake, until now.

The busy day began at CVG airport. After a quick briefing, it was on to the private charter flight.

One of the first surprises? A band at Reagan National Airport in DC, playing lively World War II-era music to greet the vets, with flags waving and lots of ,"Thank You's," from complete strangers.

"Oh when I got off the plane," said Coast Guard Vet Lillian Durham. "That was so emotional! To go up that ramp and hear that big brass band, it was beyond anything I'd ever experienced. It was almost more than you could handle you know."

They boarded three buses and got the rock-star treatment.

"I felt like the President," said former Navy nurse Irene Morgan.

"Couldn't believe it," said Mary Lou Busam. "It was wonderful!"

Police escorts made sure they never stopped once.

"The police escort," gushed Durham. "Listen here! this is marvelous!"

The veterans took a huge, group photo outside the World War II Memorial and then went inside.

This was our very first step on our honor flight at the World War II Memorial. There are the Pacific and the Atlantic campaigns represented and every state in the Union around the colonnade. But if you take a look toward the side of the monument facing the reflecting pool and Lincoln Memorial, there is a wall of gold stars, something truly special.

"There's 440 stars," said Cheryl Popp, one of the lead organizers for Honor Flight Tri-State. "Each star represents 100 fatalities, during World War II, 440-thousand Americans perished."

It is a very emotional trip.

"They call themselves survivors," Popp said. "But they don't like the word hero, because they think these are the heroes."

"I've never seen anything like it in my life," said Naval Pilot, 90-year-old John Zinke. "It was just unbelievable."

The fountains are breathtaking and serene.

"Oh this is awesome," Morgan said. "Tears come down your eyes."

"Isn't it great that we have a beautiful place here to celebrate and honor their courage and their dedication to our great nation," said Congresswoman Jean Schmidt, who flew-in early to greet the vets at the Memorial, before attending to business in the Capital.

"What happened when you came home from the war?," we asked vet Jack Eling, who had been in the Air Force. "nothing!," he laughed.

Once the war was over, Eling, like many others, came back home to no fanfare and started families, got on with their lives.

"When you came home from the service, initially, after all your years as a pilot, did you ever get a band playing for you? A police escort through our nation's capital?," we asked Zinke. "I think I had a handshake," he laughed.

"We weren't really looking for fanfare," Durham said. "We just did what we were supposed to do and then we came home."

It's a photo-op every where you go. Vets will get their picture taken, with the American flag, in front of the pillar representing their home state.

"You think how marvelous," Durham said looking around at the monument. "How'd they all plan it out, so beautifully."

The "greatest generation's" monument is between memorials for two of our nation's greatest presidents, Washington and Lincoln.

Our second stop on the Honor Flight, was the Korean Memorial and when people are walking up to the memorials, they're very chatty, but the closer they get to the silver statues, stealthily creeping through the fields, they get very somber and very quiet.

Stop number three on the Honor Flight, was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and one of the most common sights you'll see there, is folks will stop, try to find the name of a loved one engraved on the wall, and put a piece of white paper over it and start slowly scraping over it to reveal the name and take the name home with them.

The volunteer guardians never leave their veteran's sides. Eric Hempleman is the first teen and youngest of any guardian to go on this eye-opening experience.

"They've just been through so much and we really don't know what it's about. Our generation's pretty spoiled."

One of the most popular things to do at the Air Force Memorial is for veterans to get their photo taken with the reflection in the monument.

Three silver spires reach for the heavens, mimicking the jet contrails in the blue skies above.

Our final stop on the Honor Flight, was the Iwo Jima Memorial, also called The Marine Memorial. You see that very large, iconic flag flying from atop the statue. We had a gentleman on our Honor Flight, who was one of the original raisers of the much smaller original flag at Iwo Jima.

"I was right there," said Marine Arthur Beasley, who was one of the original men to fly the much smaller flag at Iwo Jima. The iconic, larger flag you see today, came much later..

"This came out on these bond drives," Beasley said. "Everywhere you've seen this flag right here, but that's the second flag. That's not the original."

The pride these men and women felt then and now is something you never outgrow.

"Everybody ought to come here," Eling said. "Not just military people."

"I love the flag, and so to see that flag there, waving in the breeze and this marvelous weather, it really is, it's a great thank you," Durham said.

There are openings on the next Honor Flight leaving the tri-state. So if you're a World War II vet or know one who might like to go, just call Honor Flight Tri-State at 513-277-9626 or log onto their website:

They are always looking for volunteers. It's a fantastic way to say, "Thank You", to these amazing men and women.

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