|Earl Morse, co-founder of the Honor Flight Network, leads the Florida Veterans on a guided tour of the sculptures on the World War II Memorial. VA photo by Hans Petersen.|
On a crisp, sunburned day this winter, an informal troop of 250 Veterans journeyed to Washington, D.C., to see the monument erected in honor of their service.
Thirty-two of them who traveled from Florida on March 11 were escorted by Orlando VA Medical Center employees.
There were celebrities and media, cameras and interviews, curious tourists and formal ranks of young Marines in colorful full dress uniforms.
But for the aging group from "the greatest generation," many in wheelchairs, there were private memories which only they could conjure.
They had come to the World War II Memorial to accept the thanks of their country as articulated by actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg.
The heroic actions of the Veterans who served in the Pacific Theatre in World War II were chronicled in the Tom Hanks-produced HBO series, "The Pacific," which began on March 14. For most of the Veterans, it will be a chance to relive the distant experiences that defined one of the most important chapters in their lives.
The Florida-based Veterans were able to attend the colorful ceremony and tour the World War II Memorial, thanks to the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring America's Veterans for their sacrifice. The organization transports Veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at their memorials.
Top priority is given to senior Veterans — World War II survivors.
Orlando VAMC employees who volunteered to serve as escorts included: Joel Torres, Jovanny Sanchez, Dr. Cheryl Smith-Martinez, Keri Simunek, Janice Sweet, Charon Chen, Jaime Valentin, Noris Falcon and Charles (Gus) Schott.
Describing the experience, escort Janice Sweet said about the trip to Washington, "Those were three of the best days of my life."
|Over 250 World War II Veterans attended the ceremony at their memorial in Washington D.C., honoring them for their service. VA photo by Stephanie Strauss.|
A highlight of the trip for the Orlando group was an animated tour of the dramatic bas relief sculptures on the monument conducted by Earl Morse, president and co-founder of the Honor Flight program. The sculpture panels illustrate the different battles and phases of life in the military during the many conflicts of World War II. The Orlando contingent enjoyed a stimulating exchange with Morse about the details of their duty in the Pacific.
Veteran Howard Haines, a patient at the Orlando VAMC, enjoyed reliving his experiences in the Pacific, stating: "I was a Navy gunner and saw action on Okinawa. This trip made me think back and realize that I couldn't believe what we went through over there."
Howard thought the trip to Washington was "fantastic, just marvelous. I really appreciate everything everybody did for us."
The journey From Guadalcanal to Orlando to their monument in Washington, D.C., represented an entire lifetime for the quietly proud group of Veterans from Florida. It also represented a real measure of their sacrifices, the ultimate expression of their generation's commitment to freedom.
By Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer