By Gary SheftickOctober 10, 2008
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 10, 2008) -- More than 600 veterans from what has been called "the greatest generation" visited the World War II Memorial Wednesday and were greeted by a current generation of Soldiers.
Applauding troops lined the halls of Reagan National Airport as the veterans arrived in town. Then the Soldiers escorted the World War II vets to the memorial on the National Mall.
Soldiers from the G-3 directorate at the Pentagon, the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power) at Fort Belvoir, Va., and the 3/312 Training Support Battalion from Fort Meade, Md., spent the day with veterans - pushing some in wheelchairs around the memorial -- and comparing notes with others about their service.
"All the veterans really want to do is interact with the Soldiers of today," said William Clarkson, a retired sergeant major who now serves as the G-3 Engineer organizational integrator. He engineered the participation of many of the active-duty troops in Wednesday's "Honor Flight" visit of World War II veterans.
The Honor Flight organization charters planes and buses to bring World War II veterans to see their memorial, free of charge. The group has been doing this almost since the World War II Memorial opened four years ago. This second Wednesday in October, nine different groups of veterans were brought to the nation's capital from Georgia, New York, New Mexico, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, Tennessee and Minnesota.
Greeting fellow Minnesota veterans and others at the memorial was the Army's Soldier of the Year, Spc. David Obray.
Obray, the Army's first top warrior from the Army Reserve, said many of the veterans live within 50 miles of where he attends school at Winona State University. He said it was an honor to meet all the veterans from "the great generation" who gave so much .
Former Sen. Bob Dole, 85, was also at the memorial and talked with dozens of veterans. He said that he's been to the memorial at least 100 times to greet veterans, but the experience is always an emotional one.
"It's a great emotional experience for all of these guys," Dole said.
"I always ask them if they shed a tear while they're here," he said. "They all do."
As Dole walked away from the memorial, he turned and shouted "This isn't goodbye, you know. Just thank you," to the World War II veterans for their service and sacrifices.
2nd Lt. Yahaira Estevez from the 3/312th was at the World War II memiral from Fort Meade, Md. She had spent 15 months deployed to Baghdad with the 1st Armored Division.
A number of the 3/312 Training Support Battalion Soldiers were on active duty helping mobilize troops at Fort Dix, N.J. They came back to Washington for the day, accompanying World War II veterans from the New York area.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Romans from Fort Dix, N.J., pushed veteran Paul Grubb around the memorial in a wheelchair. Grubb served in Italy with the 485th Bomb Group as a tail gunner. He told about flying missions over Germany as a tail gunner.
World War II veterans visit Washington on Honor Flight trips most Wednesdays and Saturdays from Arpril through October.
A flight from from Clearwater, Fla., is scheduled to visit Oct. 15 and Soldiers from the Military District of Washington Engineer Company at Fort Belvoir plan to meet the World War II veterans. Clarkson helped arrange the Soldier participation and said he hopes active-duty participation can be scheduled for every Honor Flight.
For more information on Honor Flights see related article by J.D. Leipold 'Honor Flight' makes WWII vet dreams come true
(Yves-Marie Daley contributed to this ARNEWS report.)