More than 70 World War II and Korean War veterans recently boarded a plane at Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional Airport and traveled to Washington, D.C., to view the World War II Memorial.
Thomasville resident Curtis Shores, 87, a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Army and Merchant Marines, was among veterans who visited the memorial.
Shores was accompanied by his daughter and guardian, Rhonda Parrish, a teacher at Thomas County Central High School.
“I am very humbled and honored to take part in this trip. It is an opportunity that I thought I would never have, and I am grateful to those who made it possible,” Shores said.
Shores said that as he walked around memorials and throughout the airport, strangers approached him and other veterans to offer thanks and appreciation for their service to the country.
“One little boy, about six years old, came up to me and shook my hand and thanked me for my service,” Shores recalled.
Shores served in the South Pacific. One of the places he was stationed was on a T2 tanker in the harbor of Guam.
“On August 14, 1945, the SS White Oak ship, on which I was a crew member, was going into Guam Harbor in the Mariana Islands in the South Pacific the day Japan agreed to surrender,” Shores said. “The news had just reached the island, but our ship had not received the good news. The big guns on the big ships and the island were blasting away, and the air raid sirens were screaming. We thought the Japanese were coming back to retake Guam. We thought we were in for a fight until the captain came over the PA system and told us the Japanese had surrendered.”
Shores also was stationed in Germany while in the Army, serving in occupation forces.
Parrish described the trip as “unbelievably organized and an unforgettable tribute to those of our ‘Greatest Generation’ who paid the price for our freedom as a nation. They truly understand the meaning of ‘Freedom is not Free.’ ”
“It was a most humbling experience of gratitude to watch over 70 excited veterans, many in wheelchairs and ranging in age from 77 to 97, get to see the memorial built in their honor. I am thankful to Honor Flight Tallahassee for undertaking an event of this magnitude, which is an amazing accomplishment,” Parrish said.
The trip was made possible by Honor Flight Tallahassee, a part of the national Honor Flight Network, and is provided through community donations.
The mission of Honor Flight is to ensure that every capable World War II veteran has an opportunity to see the World War II Memorial at no cost to the veteran. Veterans of other wars may also participate.
The World War II Memorial opened to the public in 2004.
World War II involved more than 30 countries and is known as the deadliest war in history.
The trip, completed in one day, included visits to Korean, Vietnam, Lincoln and Iwo Jima memorials and to Arlington National Cemetery, where the group observed the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The veterans were accompanied by a physician, a host of paramedics, and guardians. Safety of the veterans was top priority.
Veterans and guardians were required to attend an orientation prior to the departure day. On the day of departure, events began at 5 a.m. with check-in, and each veteran received a backpack. A hot breakfast was provided to veterans and guardians.
After breakfast, everyone boarded the plane. Flag-bearers were stationed on both sides as veterans entered the plane. Veterans received a water arch salute over the plane from the fire department upon departure.
Army Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson was among those who greeted veterans in Washington. Police escorts guided the buses from Baltimore Washington International Airport to each memorial and back to the airport.
On the return flight, veterans were surprised by an old-fashioned mail call, much like they experienced while in service. Guardians were responsible for getting friends and family to write letters of thanks to the veteran.
At the end of the day, upon arrival back to Tallahassee, a heroes’ welcome with much fanfare awaited veterans. The fire department honored veterans with another water arch salute. Crowds gathered to welcome veterans back home.
Upon their return, veterans were given a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, medals and a medal was draped around each veteran’s shoulder by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
A care package was given to each veteran as they departed the hangar.
Parrish said the event was made possible by donations of caring people who believe in recognizing and giving back to those who made the sacrifices for our freedom.
Mac Kemp, Leon County (Fla.) Emergency Medical Services deputy chief and chairman of Honor Flight Tallahassee Board of Trustees, was in charge of the trip.
“The name of the organization could not be more appropriate. It was truly an Honor Flight for these veterans. They were treated with the utmost respect and kindness,” Parrish said.