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Veterans take Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

September 28, 2012


S.C. veterans gather at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nineteen electric cooperatives joined Honor Flight of South Carolina yesterday to fly 85 veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorial built in their honor and other historic sites.  It was the second co-op-sponsored flight this year in honor of South Carolinians who fought in World War II

“This is a generation of people who are leaving us too quickly,” said Bill Dukes, Honor Flight of South Carolina president. “Their average age is over 88, so it’s important that we honor them before we lose that opportunity.”

In fact the oldest vet on this trip was 94, the youngest 82.

The trip, free to the veterans and paid for by 19 electric cooperatives in South Carolina, was part of a series of flights organized by Honor Flight of South Carolina, which has been arranging flights for veterans since 2008. This trip adds to the more than 81,000 veterans nationwide who have taken honor flights since 2005, when a small group of Ohio vets were ferried to Washington, D.C., in private planes.

“It’s been a real blessing,” said Dukes, referring to the cooperatives’ underwriting of a second honor flight. “We’ve been able to reach a large number of rural veterans through these co-op-sponsored flights, vets who otherwise may not have heard of Honor Flight.”

The one-day trip began with an 8 a.m. chartered flight from Columbia to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where giant water cannons created a ceremonial arc over the plane as it taxied to the gate.  When they entered the terminal, veterans were greeted by a small brass band and women, dressed as war-era USO girls, who welcomed the vets in the airport. Scores of busy travelers stopped by the gate with well-wishes for the veterans, many of whom were greeted with cheers, hugs and handshakes.

From the airport, the veterans traveled directly to the World War II Memorial. Dedicated in 2004, the oval-shaped site includes 56 granite pillars, one for each state and territory from that period and the District of Columbia. The granite for these pillars, known as “Kershaw” was quarried in South Carolina. Two-thirds of the 7.4-acre memorial site is landscaping and water.

During their stop at the Memorial, the vets took photos and shared stories.  A bugler solemnly played “Taps” as the entire group gathered for a photograph underneath the South Carolina pillar. The American and South Carolina flags were presented.

After lunch, buses took the vets on a tour of Washington with stops at other memorials on the National Mall—Korea, Vietnam, and Lincoln—before they crossed the Potomac River and visited the Iwo Jima and Air Force Memorials. Upon arriving at Arlington National Cemetery, an escort took the buses into the cemetery—a special exception the cemetery makes for these aging visitors. They watched the military precision of the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the quiet reverence broken only by the relief commander’s orders, the clicking of the soldiers’ shoes and the snap of the rifles into place on their shoulders.

By 6:30 p.m., the Columbia-bound plane was in the air. In one final surprise, awaiting the veterans’ return were hundreds of people who lined the airport terminal to give the vets a rousing welcome home. Among the dignitaries who were there to express their gratitude was South Carolina Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell.

“These two Honor Flights have been very rewarding for our family of electric cooperatives,” said Mike Couick, CEO of the state association of electric cooperatives. “It’s a humbling experience to spend time in the presence of these heroes’ who’ve done so much for our state and country.”

Readers may post words of appreciation to the veterans for their service at www.facebook.com/SouthCarolinaLiving.

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