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Honor Flight experience never forgotten

I am writing my column with the subject “One of our nation’s greatest treasures,” that being the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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I have seen this memorial on several occasions during my visits to D.C., but never have I appreciated this structure as I did on April 22, 2014. I will cover this Honor Flight experience a little later in my column.

But first, the WWII Memorial: WWII ended in 1945, but it wasn’t until 2004 that this memorial was completed – 59 years later – due to funding and lack of interest.

This 7.4 acre monument is adorned by scenes depicting action on the European Front on the north side, and the Pacific Front on the south side. At the western side are 4,080 stars, each star representing 100 men and women who gave their lives during the war. Fifty-six columns rise around the pool, representing every state and territory of the U.S. The pillars are joined by a bronze rope, symbolizing the bonding of an entire nation.

It is hard to explain all the features of this magnificent object, but I am trying to explain what I remember. One impressive object was a bronze eagle weighing 80,000 pounds. It took several cranes and three weeks to install the eight eagles that adorn the mall.

After all of the design and engineering and planning were done, the construction started. Sculpture was done by Roy Kasky, who oversaw the largest bronze project in history. In five years, his studio produced four bronze columns, eight bronze eagles, two bronze laurel wreaths for the archways, 24 bronze bas-reliefs for ceremonial entrances, 1,048 bronze stars for the freedom wall, 112 bronze wreaths with armatures, 52 bronze ropes for the pillars and two bronze flag poles for the entrance. The stone carvers were John and Nick Benson of Rhode Island, who also carved the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Kennedy Memorial.

As I mentioned earlier, on our Honor Flight to D.C., 52 of us WWII vets, 48 Korean vets and 30 guardians, plus staff of Freedom Flights, Inc. boarded a Sun Country charter plane for Washington, D.C. We were at the St. Cloud Airport terminal at 4 a.m. for a massive sendoff. Twelve of us were from the Alexandria area, some with oxygen tanks, and all eager to see what was next.

In the air, we had mail call. Not known to us vets, but our families and friends were asked to send a letter. My guardian, who is my granddaughter, would not disclose what was in the large brown envelope until the appropriate time.

Once arriving at Dulles Airport, we were greeted by a host of volunteers. Boarding three buses, we were headed to D.C. While there, we visited the Korean War, Vietnam, Iwo Jima, Navy Memorial, Air Force, Arlington Cemetery during changing of the guard and four hours at the WWII Memorial, the reason for the trip.

Arriving back at St. Cloud at 10 p.m. the same day, we were greeted by our families and friends. It was an exhausting day, a very emotional day, but what a wonderful day!

Final comment: We can be so proud to be American and live in a country with the freedoms we enjoy.

If there is another Honor Flight, I would encourage veterans to be involved. It is a trip I never shall forget. On the return flight, I ran into a veteran I had served with 65 years ago and hadn’t seen him since.

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“In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.