The men and women who served in World War II were only college aged when they left for war. When they came back and the victory parades ended they went straight into the work force, quietly restoring the economy, building the suburbs and raising their children.
Rotary Club 7690 brought 94 veterans on the Traid Flight of Honor to Washington D.C. to be recognized as they visited the World War II Memorial and other military monuments.
Their day started early as the veterans, their guardians and a medical staff gathered at the Piedmont Triad International Airport.
They took a chartered U.S. Airways flight to Reagan International Airport where their pathway from the gate all the way to security was lined with cheering supporters.
By 10:30 a.m. they had loaded the three buses, appropriately named Red, White and Blue, and were guided through Washington by a group of local motorcycle-riding Vietnam veterans and a police escort.
The first stop: the memorial that was dedicated to their own actions in 2004 under President George W. Bush. The World War II Memorial hosts 50 pillars representing each state and 4,000 gold stars representing the more than 400,000 Americans that died in the war.
Former Senator Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth were instrumental in the fundraising for the memorial. They greeted the veterans and stayed to take pictures.
From there the veterans went to the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.
The veterans also took time to honor their fellow service men and women from the Korean and Vietnam wars by visiting their memorials further down the mall.
The Korean War started just a few years after World War II ended, but it is often called “The Forgotten War.”
There was a line to get to the Vietnam Memorial. Very few veterans could actually make it right up to the wall.
Then the buses drove out past the Pentagon to The Air Force Memorial overlooking Washington. Its three spires represent the jet stream of fighter planes as they ascend into the air. It was while looking over the Washington Monument that a conversation was heard that encompassed the meaning of the trip.
One guide said to a group of veterans, “We need to wage peace.”
Even though these men had fought in one of the toughest, most wholly impactful wars in recent memory, they were at peace with the world. They had seen their friends killed next to them and they lived to share their experiences. Now that they have lived in a post-World War II world, they have the best insight into how to live to the fullest potential and with justice and a harmony that they fought to preserve.
The last memorial was the iconic Marine Corps Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. It was here that all the veterans gathered for a group picture before going to the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, VA.
Arlington Cemetery is composed of more than 620 acres. This is the resting place for many military members, but it also represents all of those who didn’t come back from the war. The respectful silence and precision of the ceremony shows how the veterans still value their time in the service.
Some men would explore by themselves throughout the day, reflecting on their memories. Others were talkative and simply overjoyed that they were, at the very least, remembered.
They returned to Regan International Airport by 6:00 p.m. where they boarded the plane for Greensboro.
When they returned to Piedmont Triad International airport they were welcomed home once again and again returned to their quiet lives.
This was the last trip for the Triad Flight of Honor. For information on other Flight of Honor trips visit www.honorflight.org.
View a slideshow of some of the photos from that day.