WWII vets visit memorials

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Twenty-nine World War II veterans from communities along the Front Range, representing every branch of the military service, used words like “amazing,” “memorable” and “emotional” to describe their Rocky Mountain Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C.

“This was a very special trip for me. It was very memorable,” Littleton resident Frank Epperson, who flew with the famous Flying Tigers in China, said of the May 2-4 trip. “I appreciate all the honor flight did to make this a special trip for those of us who served in World War II. I was humbled and honored when people I have never met come up to thank me for my service. This is a trip I will not forget.”

Rocky Mountain Honor Flight, a Denver-based nonprofit, gives World War II veterans the opportunity to visit the national World War II Memorial in Washington.

The volunteers of Rocky Mountain Honor Flight did all they could to make this a very special trip for the guests of honor. Active-duty military personnel met the veterans at the airport and helped them with their baggage. Then, people in the airport and on the plane applauded when the presence of World War II veterans was announced.

The flight landed at Baltimore and a fire truck shot an arc of water over the plane, there were flag-waving volunteers as the group got off the plane and a brass band greeted them at baggage claim.

Englewood resident Sel Hewitt, a radio operator on a B-29 in the Pacific during the war, said the trip was fantastic and was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

“I think every veteran appreciated every minute of that trip,” he said. “Everything was special, the places we visited and the contacts we had with people of all ages who were interested in what we had done and what we were doing.”

Franktown resident Doug Brown, an Army veteran, agreed.

“This trip was pretty unique, as were the greetings and bands and the other special things that were done for our visit,” Brown said. “We were greeted and treated very well. I was in an armored unit that took part in the invasion of Germany. It was very important to me to talk to people who had similar experiences.”

Planners kept the veterans busy. Among other activities, they visited the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam and Korean memorials, and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Some activities just happened. For example, the Dothan (Ala.) High School band was at the World War II Memorial during the honor flight visit and they performed a special concert for the veterans.

Numerous student groups were at the World War II Memorial, and Chase Burrows, a student at a Sumter, S.C., middle school, spent quite a bit of time talking to the veterans.

“This is special to me. My great-grandfather died in World War II, when his plane was shot down. I have read about the war and we studied it in school but talking to these men means a lot more than reading and studying.”

He said he talked to Dick Olson about his experience in a submarine, to Dick Frank about his experience as a Marine and Littleton resident Hos Varner about how he joined the Coast Guard and was assigned to crews bringing ships back from the Philippines.

“I really thank these men for what they did,” Burrows said. “They are really heroes in my eyes.”

On the flight back to Denver, the veterans had a surprise with a special “mail call” as each man received an envelope with 20 to 25 letters from family, friends and, more often, from people they had never met thanking them for their service.

“This is a surprise and it is tremendous,” Vic Olson said as he read the letters. “I truly appreciate the letters and the sentiments they expressed. It is moving and very, very special.”

The finale came when the veterans arrived at Denver International Airport, where they were met by a cheering, applauding crowd of about 200 friends, family, military personnel, police officers and firefighters in uniform and well-wishers.

Members of the Patriot Guard lined the wall holding American flags, and the El Jebel pipe band played to welcome the veterans home.