On Monday, 78 WWII and five Korean War veterans had the chance to fly out to Washington D.C. on the Never Forgotten Honor Flight. The experience gave many of them the opportunity to see both the war memorials and Washington D.C. for the first time.
"It brought tears to everone's eyes I think," said Earl Louze, a U.S. Army veteran. "We walked in here with the wheel chairs and all that. And school kids, they must have had off or took off today. And oh, there were just hundreds of them lined up saluting us, telling us how they appreciated everything." Seventh graders from a middle school nearby held up signs for the veterans as they entered their first stop on the trip, the World War II Memorial.
"It's incredible. It's just incredible. It's not for real but it is for real," said June Kingsbury, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
The next stop on the tour was to the Korean War Memorial.
"I lost good friends in Korea my age. So it's very emotional. The good die young," said Earl Staege, a U.S. Navy veteran, as he gazed at the faces of the Korean Memorial's wall. " [My] three older brothers were WWII veterans. And my oldest brother Dale was killed in action. So this whole day today, this whole event is in his honor."
The day also brought back many memories of their time in service both overseas and at home.
"We were in more consecutive days of combat than any other division of the Army. And I'm bragging," Louze said. "I was in the Army 3 years."
Louze became a part of the U.S. Army's reconnaissance team when he was 21 years old. "Find out where the enemy is and then radio back to the infantry." His job took him to the front lines of combat in the jungles of the South Pacific, to obtain intelligence ahead of the Army's main forces.
"In the Philippines, we returned with MacArthur. He always said he would return to the Philippines. So we returned there and took over the Philippines. At the end of the war, that's where I was," Louze said.
Back at base in Hawaii, June Kingsbury worked as a radio operator for the U.S. Marine Corps.
"I immediately got in touch with the teachers. And they told me about the sinking of the ships and where they hid the children from the bombers. That's something if you read about, sure. But they did it," Kingsbury said.
Kingsbury was one of about 350,000 women who made up 4.4 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII, and among just three other women veterans on the Honor Flight.
"Well you know, you're so busy, you didn't think about what it feels like to be alone. You just were there," she said. "At least that's how it was for me. I wasn't afraid. I was interested."
Kingsbury says she didn't hesitate to offer her service. "I was just thinking about what I could do, and I did it."
Perhaps that's why they're considered our nation's greatest generation.
"It's just great to be an American," U.S. Air Force veteran Norm Ahles said. "Great to have served in the service. Great to just be here."
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