WASHINGTON, D.C. — The culmination of months of planning, fundraising and prayer came Wednesday as about 90 World War II veterans from the Upstate — mostly from Pickens County — traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorial made in their honor.
In addition to the veterans, the group included caretakers, media members and Honor Flight personnel, totaling nearly 200 people.
The group left early Wednesday morning from Greenville-Spartanburg airport. A band from a Greenville-area high school was there to honor the veterans with a variety of patriotic songs.
Airport personnel and others wave flags and cheered for the veterans as they boarded the plane.
After an flight of slightly more than an hour, the veterans landed in Washington, where they found another patriot reception from Reagan International Airport personnel and other travelers.
The group then boarded three buses to begin their day of touring the patriotic sites. First on the list was World War II Memorial.
Various officials were there to greet the veterans as they got off the bus at the memorial site, including U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett.
Former Sen. Bob Dole — a World War II veteran himself — and his wife were also on hand, and volunteered to pose with the veterans for a group photo.
After the picture was made, Dole addressed the veteran, first thanking them for their sacrifices made during the War. He then thanked them for making the memorial possible.
Dole explained that memorial was made possible through private donations. Many of the donations had come from veterans themselves. However many more donations had come in memory or in honor of an individual World War II veteran.
The results were so overwhelming, the memorial was built and funds remain available for improvements.
“We’ve still got about $16 million,” Dole said. “But don’t tell that to the President.”
Dole had to leave to make a speech about possible healthcare reform and his opposition to the plan outlined by President Barack Obama. Dole said he planned to be present that night as Obama addressed Congress and the nation about the plan.”
“It’s not what you’d call a command performance,” Dole joked.
The veterans place a wreath at the memorial in front of the South Carolina tribute in honor of all South Carolina veterans who gave their lives during the war.
After a brief on-the-bus lunch, the group departed to visit the National Mall, which features the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the Korean Memorial.
As the veterans toured the area, several were stopped by other visitors who thanked them for their service to the country.
The veterans then visited the Iwo Jima Memorial, which is located just across the Virginia state line.
The veterans finished their day with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Many took time to visit the grave of legendary World War II hero Audey Murphy.
The group witnessed the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier.
The group then returned to Reagan International Airport and boarded the flight to return home.
When they arrived at the airport, a large group of supporters were waiting to welcome them home and give them one more round of applause for their service to the country.
Morgan said there were many changes along the way in the roster of veterans who would attend the trip as some passed away and others simply had health problems that would not allow them to make the trip.
“That’s one reason why it is important for us to do what we do,” Morgan said. “We are losing this great generation. We cannot let them slip away without at least making the effort to say ‘thank you’ for all they did in World War II.”