WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 12, 2010) -- About 250 veterans visited the National World War II Memorial for the first time Thursday and were honored by producers Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg in advance of their new HBO series, "The Pacific."

The 10-part miniseries, which airs on HBO beginning Sunday, is a fictional tale that documents the lives of three Marines as they fight their way from Guadalcanal to Okinawa.

The Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization that sponsors cost-free flights for veterans to visit the memorial, partnered with HBO, American Airlines, and Marriott Hotels and Resorts to fund the trip for the veterans in conjunction with a special viewing of "The Pacific."

Many of the veterans served in the Pacific World War II theater.

"I was really pleased. This is unbelievable ... outstanding," said retired Air Force pilot and World War II veteran Richard Watkins, 83, of Orlando, Fla., of being asked to participate in the event.

"I'm so impressed with this whole program," agreed retired Airman Carl L. Brown, 86, of Turnersville, N.J., who served in China, Burma and India during the war.

"The Pacific" is based on material from four books written by World War II veterans as well as original veteran interviews. Producers Hanks and Spielberg took time Thursday to honor the people who inspired their series.

"If there was ever a contribution to a nation ... it was your strength and your courage that defined the greatest generation," Spielberg said, addressing the veterans. "You said America can be built by ideas if you have the courage to act upon those ideas. We, the baby boomers have tried to live by your example."

Former Senator Elizabeth Dole, a supporter of the Honor Flight Network, also spoke at the ceremony. Dole quoted Gen. George Marshall, Army chief of staff during World War II, who when asked if America had a secret weapon that would ensure victory said, "Oh yes, America's secret weapon is the best darn kids in the world."

"It was you, veterans, those 'best darn kids' who won the war," Dole said.

Also present were Tammy Duckworth, the assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of the VA.

"Ordinary Americans hate going to war, which is a paradox, since it was ordinary Americans who made the difference between liberty and subservience, between freedom and terror, 70 years ago," Hanks said.

Jerome Freund, 85, of New York, a retired Sailor who served in Casablanca, North Africa, and Italy during the war, got emotional when asked how he felt about being part of the event.

"It restored my faith in what I was fighting for," Freund said solemnly.

"I've never been honored in a group like this before," said Jim Inglis of Baltimore, 85, an Army veteran who served in China. Inglis, who hasn't yet retired from his job at Northrop Grumman, said he doesn't like to make a big deal of his veteran status -- he just did what his country required.

The veterans later got an exclusive look at the first episode of "The Pacific," while Hanks and Spielberg joined President Obama at the White House for a private screening.