WASHINGTON, D.C.–It was the second trip of a lifetime for 80 Mississippi World War II veterans Tuesday. They left the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport for a day trip to the World War II Memorial in the nation’s capital.
The Miss. Gulf Coast Honor Flight is modeled after the same thing in Alabama, according to coordinator Wayne Leppen. He said interest started in 2010 and the original core group of organizers didn’t have a dime to do it on. But, that changed once the word got out about why the vets were going to D.C.
For some it was their first time seeing their memorial. Doris Knausz of Biloxi was a physical therapist in 1945, but stayed in the Army and Air Force for 22 years.
“It’s impressive, even with all the construction going on,” she said. Knausz was talking about the water being turned off at the memorial due to seepage problems. There also many other construction projects underway, like scaffolding around the Washington Monument to repair last year’s earthquake damage.
“But, these things happen,” she said.
“It’s nice, real nice,” said C.J. Kidd of New Albany. “These people that did this, they knew something most people don’t,” he said. Kidd drove a tank in Europe and lost his squad leader to shrapnel right by his side.
At the memorial, members of Mississippi’s Congressional delegation spoke to the vets and their volunteer guardians.
“My grandfather was a Marine. He died when I was very young. It seems like every time I see a World War II veteran, or any veteran, I get a glimpse of what he might look like today,” he said.
Following the World War II Memorial, it was on to the Korean and Vietnam monuments, the Lincoln Memorial and the Marine Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.
The last stop was for the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, where over 300,000 service members, spouses and national dignitaries are buried. A wreath was laid by the Mississippi vets at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
To round out the first class affair, there was mail call on the flight home, where kids and family members sent letters to the vets, thanking them for their service and sacrifice.
Most of them were in their late 80s or early 90s. The oldest Miss. vet on the trip was 97. The group is trying to drum up interest in getting more people from other parts of the state to come along on the next flight.