"Honor Flight is an organization that flies World War II veterans to DC from all over the country free of charge. The program started in 2004 when the World War II Memorial was finally dedicated. There are now about two million living American veterans of that war. Every year, we bring about twenty thousand of them to DC. Flights come to DC just about every week, mostly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The guys and their families spend about an hour-and-a-half at this memorial and then they can see the rest of the Mall. At the end of the day, they fly back home. For many of these people, it is their first time in DC.
"The memorial took so long to build because when these guys came home from the war, they just went to work. They were not rallying for recognition. And it wasn't until 1987 when a real discussion on the memorial got started. If you are from Washington, you know how Washington works. They started talking about the memorial in 1987 and it took until 1995 to select this place. They then fought over this place for six years for a number of reasons. They said it interfered with location of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech. Also, because this location is on a flood plain. Another reason was that it blocked the view between the Lincoln and the Washington Monuments.
"But, in 2001, guys like Senator Dole said, 'Enough! World War II veterans are dying at 1,000 a day. Let's build the damn thing.' That's how it started. They then raised $195 million and spent $180 million to build it. It was very little federal money and mostly private money from veterans, schools having bake sales and other sources. That is how it got built in 2004.
"On a good Saturday, we will bring in 1,000 World War II vets to the memorial. It is very emotional for me to talk with these guys as I am a Vietnam vet. While we served in different periods, we speak the same language. And one thing we all have in common, whether it is with the World War II guys or the guys returning now from Iraq, is that there is the right way to do things, the wrong way to do things and the Army way to do things!"
Read more about and support Honor Flight here.
Matt Irwin and I conducted this interview.