It was an unlikely trip, which required raising more than $86,000 to fly 102 aging World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., for a one-day whirlwind tour of the capital and the World War II Memorial.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 19 edition of the Kansan.It was an unlikely trip, which required raising more than $86,000 to fly 102 aging World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., for a one-day whirlwind tour of the capital and the World War II Memorial.Veteran Truman Meyer of Newton, who joined fellow veterans from his home Plainville VFW post on the trip, said the trip, dubbed the Honor Flight, was a last hurrah, an honor and humbling experience.“We have been losing so many World War II veterans in the state of Kansas, I guess they felt as if they should do something before they ended up in the graveyard,” he said.Meyer, 84, and his wife moved to Newton a year ago after spending most of their lives in Palco. Meyer worked in the oilfield before he retired.He was only 18 when he received notice he was being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943.A medical condition kept Meyer from serving in combat, but he worked as an Army truck driver until the bomb was dropped on Japan.After the end of the war, Meyer was shipped overseas where he served as a motor sergeant and supervised drivers in the Asiac theater until 1946.Meyer said war then was different than it is today — not so high tech. And instead of today’s professional soldiers, many of those soldiers fighting in the war were scared young men like him who had been drafted right out of high school.He saw many of these young men go through tank training at Fort Hood where he was stationed.“You got 17 months of training, and then you were off to combat,” he said.Meyer had been to Washington, D.C., to visit the other memorials, but this was the first time he had seen the World War II Memorial.He was awestruck.“It was something out of this world,” Meyer said.Meyer said he and the other men were emotionally overwhelmed by support of the group who organized the trip and the reception they received in Salina, where they departed from, and in Washington, D.C.Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and former Sen. Bob Dole were on hand to greet the veterans in Washington.Moran’s father, who also is a World War II veteran, also made the pilgrimage to the memorial.“They all said if you didn’t shed a tear, there was something wrong with you,” Ellenora Meyer, Truman’s wife, said.Although the group only spent the one day in Washington, they also took a bus tour of other national monuments and visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where they watched the changing of the guard ceremony.“It was pretty patriotic. It gave me a patriotic feeling to stop and think how lucky we are to be in the United States of America,” he said.A film crew from the Smithsonian filmed the event for a documentary they were producing.Event organizer and Rooks County Commissioner Pat Hageman said organizers did not want the cost to be an impediment to the veterans making the trip.“I left with 15 cents in my pocket and came home with 15 cents in my pocket. The whole deal was paid for,” Meyer said.Hageman said the organizers wanted to do something special for the veterans and got the idea for the Honor Flight from other groups that had done similar events in eastern Kansas and Ohio.“We consider them heroes,” he said. “From day one, we wanted to do something special.”In addition to the veterans, high school students, dubbed guardians, from Rooks County and medical staff accompanied the veterans to Washington.The day allowed the young guardians to learn from an older generation, Hageman said.“Those group of 35 high school students looked different after they had spent the day with the World War II veterans,” he said. ... “They grew throughout the day. You could see them swell with pride as the veterans did, and they were excited to be a part of it.”