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World War II veteran takes flight

Honor Flight of Dallas offers all-expense paid trip to nation’s capital

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October 26th, 2010

A sense of patriotism filled the air as 35 World War II veterans jetted off to Washington, D.C., this summer to see the memorial built in their honor. The two-day trip, courtesy of Honor Flight of Dallas, departed Love Field after a water cannon salute on the runway. These veterans have given so much for our country. We want to honor them by taking as many as we can to see their memorial in Washington, D.C., says Rhonda Ensey, president of Honor Flight of Dallas. The trip is even more meaningful because the veterans get to experience it with others who went through the same things they did, she adds. They share a special bond.

A true hero

Highland Springsresident Bill Harper was one of the 35 veterans on the trip. Harper, a Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient, was part of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion. Like most veterans, Harper returned to work and family when the war ended. Thoughts of the war, while never erased, took a backseat to daily life. This trip, with its many expressions of gratitude, took several of the veterans by surprise.

A chance to say thanks

Once the jetliner touched down in Baltimore, the group of veterans and guardians boarded a bus bound for Washington s National Mall, with a brief stop at Arlington National Cemetery. Buses aren t allowed in the cemetery, says Harper, but they made an exception for us. We drove right up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to see the Changing of the Guard. At the World War II memorial, the veterans were greeted by crowds of schoolchildren. One choral group from Boston was about to leave when a park ranger told them we were coming, says Ensey. They stayed to sing God Bless America and The Star-Spangled Banner for us. Later that evening, after a banquet at the hotel, the veterans stayed up until midnight swapping stories. They were up at five o clock the next morning to visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. The soldiers at Walter Reed were just in awe of these World War II guys, says Ensey. One of our volunteers made prayer squares for the vets to hand out. Each one bore the inscription, From one soldier to another. After a brief stop at the Vietnam and Korean War monuments, the group headed back to the airport for the flight home. Once on board the plane, each veteran was given a manila envelope filled with letters of thanks. Mail call was their favorite time when they were in the service, and this was no different, says Ensey. We asked friends and family members to write letters. We had schoolchildren write and draw pictures. The veterans loved it. Harper agrees. I ve never gotten so many thanks, he says. Everyone on the trip made us feel like heroes. When the plane touched down at Love Field, a crowd of over 400 greeted the veterans as they walked up the jetway. Bagpipers from the Dallas Police band were also on hand to celebrate their return. For Harper, the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Anyone can go to Washington and see the things we did, he says, but you won t be able to see them the way we did. To learn more about the Honor Flight program, nominate a veteran, or make a donation, visit honorflightofdallas.org.

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