Wiregrass 'Greatest Generation' visits World War II memorial
April 29, 2010
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Younger generations of servicemembers and Families welcomed home 90 members of 'the greatest generation' after they returned to the Dothan Regional Airport following the fourth and final World War II Wiregrass Honor Flight April 24.
The daylong trip to Washington, D.C., allowed the country's heroes to visit the World War II Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
On hand to welcome back the veterans were 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment flight school students, warrant officer candidates and Dothan's Air Force 280th Combat Communications Squad.
"It's an honor to be out here to meet them. They're 'the greatest generation' and there's a reason they're called that," said 1st Lt. Ryan Andersen, D Co., 1st Bn., 145th Avn. Regt.
Some student-pilots, like 2nd Lt. Brian Burgi, said they have grandfathers or other relatives who served in the second World War, and Saturday brought back memories of their loved ones.
"It's an honor to be a part of the same organization (my grandfather) was (in) so long ago. The connection with the past is important," said Burgi.
Warrant officers candidates volunteered as part of their classes' community service projects. WOC Tom Olinger, who graduated this week, and soon returns home to Fort Bragg, N.C., said his grandfather was a World War II veteran, making the weekend's event special for him.
"All of these guys are my Family," Olinger said. "I relate to them. I grew up in Veterans of Foreign Wars (facilities) with my grandfather."
Air Force members also relished the experience, since some of the honor flight veterans served in their branch, too.
"It's easy for us since we're military. There's a brotherhood aspect to it. We have a responsibility to honor these men (and women) who gave of themselves in a war much more violent than (the one) we're in now," said Lt. Col. Ken Pruitt, Air Force squad commander.
Families poured into the airport terminal to greet their relatives. Ginny and CW4 Nicholas Atwood were present to welcome home Ginny's grandfather, Pierce Rayvon Pettis Jr., a former Navy lieutenant. They said the honor flight was long overdue recognition for the veterans.
"We feel like all of these guys deserve their glory. A lot of them probably didn't get a lot of thanks when they came back (from war)," Ginny said.
Many of the former servicemembers expressed their gratitude for a chance to visit the memorial built in their honor.
"It was superb. The war memorial was something else. It was beautiful," said Evelyn Moore, an Army private during World War II.
Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Cary Sanders said he visited with his grandson, Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaun Simon, during Saturday's tour of the memorial. Having both been deployed before, though the tours were several decades apart, gives the two men a special connection, he said.
"It's about all a man could ask for," Sanders said.
Since the flights began last year, about 360 veterans have shared in the experience, according to Jim McGhee, honor flight director of communications. Many of them call the Wiregrass area home, but he said veterans came from all over the country to participate.