World War II veterans make emotional visit to their memorial in D.C.
April 4, 2014
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 5, 2014) -- As the brass band played and American flags fluttered in the breeze, World War II veterans received a hero's welcome on Saturday as they visited the memorial for the war in which they fought in seven decades ago.
A column of well-wishers waved flags. Some were dressed in red, white, and blue. Members of the military were also on hand to greet the veterans of the "Greatest Generation," April 5, at the World War II Memorial.
For many of the veterans arriving on "honor flights" this breezy, sunny morning, it was their first visit to their memorial. U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Dick Tobin was among the first-time visitors.
"I'm having a wonderful day," said Tobin, who traveled with an honor flight from Syracuse, N.Y. He was accompanied by his daughter, Cheryl Tobin, an Air Force and Navy veteran.
The Honor Flight Network brings veterans to Washington free of charge for them to see the memorials for the wars they fought in decades ago, with priority given to the most senior and terminally ill veterans.
Veterans and their escorts said they were touched by the outpouring of support from members of the public and the military. It was an emotional experience as well to finally visit the memorial, they said.
"I never in a million years expected this. It's wonderful," Cheryl Tobin said. "There are no words to describe this. It's just wonderful and long overdue."
As the veterans made their way around the memorial, they were greeted with handshakes and expressions of gratitude. "Thank you for your service," and "Can I take your photo?" were often-heard phrases.
Surrounded by a contingent of family members, Army veteran Hugh Phelps held a decades-old picture of his brother Patrick, an Army veteran, on his lap atop a folded American flag.
"I was in the last part of the war with Patrick," said Phelps, who was in the 26th Infantry Division. He arrived at the memorial as part of a tour sponsored by Honor Flight Capital Region, which serves veterans in the Washington, D.C., area.
It's a "very good" and "wonderful day," said Phelps, as his family members smiled proudly and snapped photographs of their war hero.
Navy Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Levy and two members of his detachment -- Petty Officers Jordan Holtschulte and Brian MacMurchy -- drove three hours from Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Va., to greet the veterans.
"It's our way to pay respects to them. They led the way and enabled us to be who we are and what we can do today," Levy said.
Driving a few hours to Washington to greet the veterans is the very least they could do for the service members who did so much for the nation, said Holtschulte.
Holtschulte had volunteered at an honor flight greeting in Chicago at O'Hare airport and organized the trip for his shipmates.
"I just thought it would be a great way to spend a Saturday," he said.
Crowds were on hand to cheer and greet the World War II veterans arriving on honor flights from Ohio and upstate New York, and an honor flight bus tour out of the national capital region.
Navy WAVES veteran Eileen Howell from, Columbus, Ohio, said she was having a wonderful day visiting the memorial. She served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946.
"It's far beyond what I ever expected," she said. "It was wonderful. I have never been greeted so much in my life. I couldn't believe it. It was just unimaginable."
Air Force Honor Guard members Airman 1st Class Rebecca Eiseman and Airman 1st Class Ashley Rash were happy to come out and greet the veterans.
"We volunteered last fall and we want to volunteer all summer, so we just come here to shake their hands and say thank you for everything they did," said Eiseman. "If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here, so they paved the way for us."
Sixteen members of the Prime Time Brass band drove seven hours from upstate New York to be in Washington to welcome their local veterans.
"It's a great day, they seemed ecstatic that we were here and we're just happy to be here to honor them," said band member Bill McGrath, who served three years in the Marine Corps and 17 years in the Army Reserve.
An honor flight from Dallas-Fort Worth had also visited the memorial on Friday.
"It's nice to see the memorial ... very nice and beautiful," said WAVES veteran Janet Thompkins on Friday, as she and her honor flight escort, her son-in-law, visited.
Army Lt. Col. Darryl Stephens, who is stationed at the Pentagon, volunteered to accompany the veterans to see the memorial and other important sites.
The veterans are amazing inspirations, he said.
"As a service member, as a Soldier, I respect these guys, words can't describe it," said Stephens. "When I read and listen to their stories, it just humbles me."
Army veteran Bob Martin, who served in the South Pacific, said visiting the memorial for the first time was an emotional experience.
"I almost cried several times. All the people that gathered down here just to shake our hands and to thank us for what we've done," he said.
Martin was accompanied by his son, Glenn Martin, who shared his war hero father's sentiments.
"My eyes haven't been dry since we got off the airplane pretty much," said the younger Martin. "It's quite the emotional experience."
Glenn Martin said he has immense gratitude for his father's generation and all they did to keep the nation free. "Unbelievable," he said. He said he was so glad to share the moment with his father and the other veterans. The memorial, which was dedicated in 2004 nearly six decades after the end of war, is beautiful and spectacular, he added.
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