They are often called the "Greatest Generation," and on Saturday, about 700 World War II veterans finally got to see the D.C. memorial that had been built and dedicated to them in 2004.
WASHINGTON – They are often called the “Greatest Generation,” and on Saturday, about 700 World War II veterans finally got to see the D.C. memorial that had been built and dedicated to them in 2004.
Some of these veterans, who are between 84 and 100 years old, never thought they’d be able to be here to experience this. But “Honor Flight” made this day possible.
Earl Morse, founder of Honor Flight, says, “It’s a celebration of liberty. Because these men and women who are gathered here, collectively and literally, saved the world.” The nonprofit has flown about 110,000 WWII veterans to the memorial for free from all across the country.
“We have a very narrow window of opportunity. But we have over 20,000 World War II veterans on the waiting list,” Morse says. “And every one of them deserves to see their memorial.” It’s a battle against the clock, he says, since every day about 640 World War II veterans die.
Francis Buchanan, from Fall River, Mass., led a heavy machine gun squad with the 30th Infantry Division during the war, and says he “just kicked 87. My birthday was D-Day, June the sixth.” Buchanan survived the battle, but “I never thought I’d live to see” the memorial, he says.
Just before Buchanan headed to see the memorial for the first time, a crowd gathered around his wheelchair, asking about the medals on his chest.
“This one I got for, one morning a group of tanks came through. We were in fox holes outside in the woods of Bastogne,” in Belgium, Buchanan says. The lead tank, he remembers, started blasting everything in sight.
That’s when he rolled under the tank and attached a magnetic mine to the gas tanks. “It got about 50 yards down the road and it went up like a skyrocket,” he says.
Buchanan was blown away by all the people coming up to him on Saturday and thanking him for his service to our country.
Carl Sell, from Connecticut, was struggling with being at the memorial.
“I’m excited by being here and then there’s a certain, shall I say, sorrow when you think of how many guys didn’t come back,” he says.
General Colin Powell spoke to the vets, saying, “You guys, you ladies and all those who served alongside of you – thank you, God bless you. We thank you for freedom and democracy throughout the world and for serving your country.” He added that they inspired generations of officers, soldiers, airmen and marines.
Honor Flight made its first flight in 2005. “We took off in six little planes and we flew 12 veterans,” says Morse, a pilot. The next month, they had eight planes and flew 16 veterans. But on Saturday alone, Morse says, they flew nearly 700 veterans to visit the memorial. Now, they use commercial planes to transport the veterans.
See the trailer for a documentary about Honor Flight:
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Earl Morse, the founder of the honor flight.