By Senior Master Sgt. Gary Rihn, Utah ANG HQ PA
/ Published September 24, 2014
Washington, D.C. -- For the first time in seven decades, a group of World War II veterans got together and wore matching uniforms.
Instead of their last uniform of camouflage and boots, this time they were wearing matching red, white and blue T-shirts, emblazoned with Utah Honor Flight across their proud chests.
The group of 66 veterans traveled from their homes in Utah to Washington, D.C., on September 18 to see the World War II Memorial, dedicated 10 years ago in their honor. For most, it was their first time to see the memorial.
Upon their arrival in D.C., they were greeted by a military color guard, and then had time on their own to explore the memorial and surrounding sights.
"It is just incredible to see," was a common sentiment of many, as they relived their past, telling stories and catching up on lost time.
Art Meredith, 88 years old and a Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class during the war, was a corpsman, charged with treating sailors and Marines injured in combat.
"It was pretty intense at times, but very rewarding when a Marine thanks you. It was nice to help other people and to know you're contributing to others getting well so that they can go home to their families," said Meredith.
The veterans were each paired up with a travel guardian during their trip, to ensure their safety and well-being while away from home. Some guardians were family members, and others were volunteers who just wanted to help.
Ninety-two-year-old Bill Bradshaw, of Ogden, Utah, a former Navy radio operator who later turned into a dive bomber gunner during the war, was accompanied by his daughter Janet.
"I figured it was now or never," she said. "I wanted him to come here to get the acknowledgement that he deserves. The whole treatment here, witnessing the reactions here and in the airports; they parted the seas for these guys as they came through. They treated these veterans so beautifully."
Another guardian was Wayne Madsen, a history teacher from Clinton, Utah. He was a volunteer for a veteran that was unable to have family travel with him. He looked forward to sharing the experience with his students.
For others, it was an opportunity for family members to get a welcomed visit. Kelly Weaver, who lives in Virginia, was waiting to see her grandfather George Ford. He flew food drops with the Army Air Corps during the war. Ford is now 96 years old and gets to see his granddaughter once or twice a year, so this was a special trip for him.
While these veterans served during wartime, some also had personal connections to their former opponents.
Allen Young, an Army Air Corps Sergeant, was stationed on Guam during the war and then served part of his time at a radar site in Japan after their surrender, 50 miles north of Tokyo. While there, he constructed a boat to pass the time, and would take local Japanese children out for rides on the sea. One day, he saw a mother carrying her sick child up the beach towards him, asking Young to help. He was able to get the child to a hospital for treatment. 40 years later, Young returned to Japan on vacation, and had the opportunity to reconnect with the child's mother, who related that her son had gone on after that to become a doctor himself.
The journey to Washington, D.C., was organized by the Honor Flight organization. This was the first year in nine years that Utah veterans made the trip, according to Judy Lemmons, who serves as an Honor Flight coordinator. It was also their largest group to date, with two more flights scheduled later this year.
"It is really fun to watch them open up and share, and how it brings back their memories," said Lemmons.
Kristi Moulton, daughter of Sgt. Young, added, "Everybody here is so great. These veterans deserve this; they sacrificed so much to put this country where it is."
Besides their memorial, the veterans also experienced other local memorials, riding tours of Washington, D.C., as well as attending a Heroes Banquet and being met by a couple of generals.
Utah currently has about 8,700 surviving World War II veterans.