Last Saturday, 120 World War II veterans from our county and surrounding area attended the Flight of Honor, which flew them from Charlotte to Washington, D.C. for a chance to visit the World War II memorials.
Sponsored by Rotary District 7680 in Mecklenburg County, the flight cost the veterans nothing. Veterans departed from Shoney’s parking lot in Rockingham on Friday, with a blue-light escort from Richmond County to Mecklenburg County. That evening, Col. Larry Rogers, local Flight of Honor chair, took the veterans out to eat at Cracker Barrel.
The veterans boarded their flight in the morning, and many were impressed with how effortlessly they were able to pass through security. The airport coordinated with the Flight of Honor officials to make the trip as hassle-free for the veterans as possible. Their flight departed at 9:15 a.m. and when they landed in D.C. they were overwhelmed by their welcome.
Rogers said the guardians and other volunteer support staff caught the flight before the veterans so they would be there when the veterans arrived. Rogers said he was able to view their arrival as a by-stander. As the veterans entered the terminal from the plane, there was clapping and cheering and a band played while people waved flags, hugged and kissed the veterans.
The veterans then headed out to the memorials, at which Elizabeth Dole greeted them and took pictures with them.
Seeing the veterans at the memorial that was constructed to honor them has a powerful impact on many.
“What heroes we have amongst us,” said Pam Dillman, who served as a guardian on the trip. “I had known these people from before but now I have a different sense of it. Seeing the Iwo Jima memorial with WWII veterans walking around it was touching. In less than a 24-hour time my whole life changed. Every day is precious here in America. These people gave their lives so that we could just be here. They preserved our life here, and today in Iraq, people are giving their lives for us.”
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery touched many as well. The guards that are posted at the tomb are regimented and exact. They have many rules to adhere to, and lead different lives because of it.
“They cannot cuss or drink for the rest of their lives,” said Dillman.
“They’ve got to be on the ball,” said veteran Homer Bynum, of Windblow.
The soldier on guard must make the same number of paces each time he marches to and fro before the tomb.
Bynum said the trip would be “a day that will always be in my life. There wasn’t a thing about it that wasn’t good. It was wonderful. The weather was perfect.”
The veterans were most touched by the display of people that greeted them upon their return in Charlotte.
Veteran Marshall Ussery said, “The thing that touched me most was when we left D.C. and landed in Charlotte. They had it worked out to where we were to walk between people. As we marched, women and little-bitty girls would hug our necks and say, ‘Thank you for your service’ and we’d take picture with the girls. That touched me. Everybody treated us with high respect.”
Bynum agreed, “Back at Charlotte, you won’t believe the amount of people that were lined up.”
Ussery said he was amazed by the amount of graves at Arlington.
“There was just acres and acres, as far as you could see,” he said.
Rogers said this was his last Flight of Honor.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it; I’ve enjoyed hearing their stories. This was the eighth flight. It went great. The vets were happy.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ex. 43, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.