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World War II vets take the trip of their lives
The final Heartland Honor Flight touched down in Omaha around 10:00 pm Friday night. For the past year, these flights have taken Nebraska veterans to Washington D.C. to see the World War II Memorial. NEWS 5's Dennis Kellogg and videographer Kevin Rempe were with the group on Thursday's flight. They give us an inside look at a day these heartland veterans will never forget.
Nearly 400 veterans gathered in an Omaha ballroom this week anticipating the trip of a lifetime – a thank you for their years of service to our country decades ago.
"I was a pilot in Europe, a year and a half," said Grand Island veteran Joe Royer.
"I was in the Army. I went in at 17. I was in the Battle of the Bulge. I was in Normandy," Grand Island veteran Earl Merritt said.
Each has his own story. All contributed to winning the most important war the country has ever fought.
"These are the guys that saved the world for democracy, came home and helped raise their families, served their communities, believed in self–reliance, personal responsibility, right and wrong, and no whining," said Organizer Bill Williams.
For the past year, Bill Williams has organized these honor flights that bring Nebraska veterans to the nation's capitol to see the memorial built as a thank you to them. You do not have to look far to see what that thank you means to these men and women.
"It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life," Hastings veteran Glen May. "It brings tears to my eyes. It is really been great."
"Just unbelievable. It is just something you never think you will be able to see. I was just happy to be here," Hastings veteran Jasper Newell said.
The veterans take a thoughtful stroll around the World War II Memorial, stopping for a photo at the Nebraska pillar, or to ponder the wall of bronze stars representing those killed or missing in action. The day also includes a stop at Iwo Jima, a performance by the U.S. Marine silent drill team, and the changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
It is a 20–hour day that leaves these veterans appreciating the efforts of so many on their behalf.
"It has been wonderful and I appreciate what all the people of Nebraska did to make this happen. I never dreamed I would be here."
What seems to mean the most to these veterans is simply getting a long overdue thank you – something they never asked for, but certainly treasure.
"Just the idea that finally they have taken attention of World War II vets and what we did there," said Grand Island veteran Clarence Mabon.
"You come out here like today and the little kids come up and shake your hands. It is getting through to them. We do not want to forget them," St. Paul veteran Darold Jorgensen said.
"People that talked to us and everybody shaking your hand and all the military that was around there now. They really thought we were something special," said Hastings veteran Eugene Weber.
So in just one years time, more than 1,500 Nebraska veterans had the chance to see the sites of Washington D.C. thanks to the Heartland Honor Flight.
A reunion is planned for all those who made one of the seven Heartland Honor Flights. That will take place Memorial Day weekend in Omaha.
Original Airdate: 4/24/09
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