Honor Flight: World War II veterans fly to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A group of 78 World War II veterans gathered at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport last Wednesday for a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial.
In addition, the group was able to visit the memorials for veterans of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, the Tomb of The Unknowns, as well as other memorials in the Washington area.
Honor Flight is a non-profit organization with chapters in each of the 50 United States. South Carolina is home to four Honor Flight organizations. Honor Flight Upstate lists its home address as Simpsonville, but serves veterans from all over the Upstate region. Honor Flight of South Carolina is based in Columbia, and serves primarily veterans from the midlands area of South Carolina. The Grand Strand/Myrtle Beach chapter is based on Pawley’s Island, and Honor Flight Lowcountry calls Charleston home.
Honor Flight began in 2005 after retired Air Force Captain Earl Morse noted that it was a shame that the WWII Memorial was being built, but so few WWII vets would be able to see it. National statistics show that approximately 900 WWII veterans die each day across the country.
Morse organized what turned out to be the first Honor Flight trip, taking 12 WWII vets to visit the memorial site on small planes that flew out of Springfield, Ohio. Later, others sponsored similar trips, with 137 veterans visiting Washington, D.C. through Honor Flight in 2005.
In 2006, 891 veterans made the trip, and more than 5,000 veterans traveled with Honor Flight in 2007. In 2008, 11,137 veterans visited the memorial through Honor Flight. In 2010, the number of veterans visiting the memorials through Honor Flight grew to 17,832, and peaked at 22,149 in 2010.
Last year, Honor Flight provided trips for 18,055 veterans. The organization has plans to continue the trips with veterans of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts in future years.
Veterans began gathering at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport around 7 a.m. last Tuesday, April 17, checking in and being entertained by a band that played patriotic tunes all morning. Family members gave the veterans warm good-bye wishes, and volunteers joined them for the trip to make sure each veteran had access to wheelchairs that would help many as they traveled to various sites in Washington, D.C.
The veterans landed at Reagan International Airport in Washington, greeted by more well-wishers.
From there they traveled by bus to the World War II Memorial.
The World War II Memorial was built to honor the 16 million who served the country in uniform during the war, more than 400,000 of whom gave their lives.
In 1993, Congress authorized the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish a World War II Memorial, funded mostly by private donations. Work began in September 2001, and the memorial was dedicated May 29, 2004.
The memorial includes 56 pillars representing the U.S States, territories and the District of Columbia that joined together in the war effort.
A quote from Harry Truman, U.S. President during the final days of the war, is included on one wall: “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
After a brief break for lunch, the veterans and their sponsors visited the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the Air Force Memorial.
Five years after the end of World War II, the United States found itself involved in another conflict. In the morning hours of June 25, 1950, the communist government of North Korea launched an attack into South Korea. American troops were sent from stations in Japan. In 1953, an uneasy peace was negotiated.
One and a half million U.S. men and women served in the war.
The Korean War memorial features 19 stainless-steel statues created by WWII veteran Frank Gaylord, creating a scene of American ground troops.
The statues feature men from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and includes figures representing members of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy.
The Vietnam Memorial features the names of hundreds of servicemen.
Each name is followed by a diamond or a cross. The diamond denotes that the individual is considered deceased. Names followed by a cross were either missing or prisoners of war who remained missing and unaccounted for at the end of the conflict.
The memorial also features figures of men serving in Vietnam. One statue features three women coming to the aid if a fallen soldier.
Eight yellowwood trees are part of the memorial, a tribute to the eight women who died while serving in Vietnam.
The most recent addition to the area is the Air Force Memorial, dedicated Oct. 14, 2006, paying tribute to the U.S. Air Force and its predecessor organizations. The memorial honors the 54,000 airmen who have died in combat — the second most of the five branches of American armed services.
The final stop for the Honor Flight veterans was Arlington National Cemetery, for the famous statue of soldiers raising the flag on San Juan Hill and the changing of the guards ceremony at the Tomb of The Unknowns.
Veterans who have never had the opportunity to see the memorials due to physical or financial limitations are invited to apply for upcoming flights. There is no cost to the veteran to participate in this worthwhile program. It is extremely important to extend this opportunity in a timely manner to all interested WWII veterans as they range in age from their 80s to over 100 years old, and are dying at such a high rate throughout our country.
Many ordinary volunteers from the Upstate have joined forces with numerous organizations and businesses to make these trips possible. In addition, the following elected officials are supporting the efforts to take every Upstate World War II veteran on an Honor Flight: Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Jim DeMint, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, Greenville County Sheriff Steve Loftis, Pickens County Sheriff C. David Stone, Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper and Oconee Sheriff James Singleton. Multiple Upstate schools, JROTC Units, churches and individuals have held fundraisers to make this flight possible. Major corporate sponsors include Lockheed Martin, Verizon Wireless, Chick-Fil-A, Spinx, Hucks Financial Services, Purple Tuna Tees, The Bank of Travelers Rest, Bonitz Flooring, and GrandSouth Bank.
For more information on how to get involved, make a donation or apply as a guardian or veteran, visit or call (864) 869-VETS. Honor Flight volunteers are standing by to answer calls and take credit card donations by phone.