Now in their late 80s to early 90s,more than 330 veterans who fought in World War II finally had the chance Saturday to visit their memorial for the first time.
With the help of Honor Flight Network, the group received an all-expense paid trip to the capital to visit the National World War II Memorial.
Veterans came from all over the country,including Florida,Indiana,Georgia and Texas.
Sidney Gold,90,an Air Force veteran from West Palm Beach,Fla.,said coming to the memorial brought back many memories. Gold went to war with seven of his good friends. Only one other is alive. Two died in the war and the others died in old age.
“I wouldn’t do it again in a million years,but I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.
Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing the country’s most senior or ill veterans to Washington to visit memorials that honor their service and sacrifices.
According to the Department of Veteran Affairs,about 640 World War II veterans die each day.
Once veterans arrived at the memorial,they were wheeled out of buses to hugs and kisses from dozens of Honor Flight Network volunteers. Volunteers and members of the military stood in rows to shake hands and tell veterans that what they did will never be forgotten.
Danielle Sturgis,Honor Flight Network volunteer coordinator for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport,organized volunteers to greet veterans when they landed at the airport. The Daughters of American Revolution also helped greet veterans.
“They can’t fathom we took time out of our day to shake their hands,” Sturgis said.
Sturgis,whose grandfather served in World War II,said Americans can learn a lot from one of the greatest generations of people.
Honor Flight visits will continue through November this year.
Philip Sovetnick,90,an Army veteran from Margate,Fla.,said this was the first time he’s seen the memorial.
“I couldn’t imagine it being so lovely,” Sovetnick said. “This is something no one can picture unless they’ve actually done it.”
Sovetnick was drafted into the Army when he was 23 and was assigned to a ship that provided supplies to forces in the Pacific Ocean.
Carol Ryan,a volunteer from Port St. Lucie,Fla.,came with Sovetnick to help with his wheelchair. The Air Force veteran is a deli manager.
“I couldn’t see the memorial through my dad’s eyes,because he passed away,so I wanted to see it through the eyes of another World War II veteran,” she said. “I’m so glad these guys got what they finally deserved – recognition.”
World War II Army veterans Richard Mote,89,a retired history teacher,and his friend,James McDowell,91,came from Indianapolis to visit the memorial. Mote and McDowell grew up next door to each other and went to Arsenal Technical High School.
Mote was drafted into the Army and was an artillery man. He fought in D-Day and remembered going to a concentration camp in eastern Germany on the day the country surrendered.
He said he saw bodies stacked up higher than the memorial.
“I could smell the death five miles away,” Mote said,in tears. “That is something I don’t want to forget.”
During the war,McDowell worked for the Army Medical Corps. He served for about three years and afterward mentored Boy Scouts for 53 years.
“I always wondered what God’s purpose was for everybody and why he allowed me to come back. Nobody knows; you just have to do the best you can,” he said.
McDowell said he hopes the United States does not go into Syria.
“We’ve lost enough of our sons in this country. It’s too much of price stamp to pay,” he said.
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Video by Nick Prete.