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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two dozen of Utah’s World War II veterans have landed in the nation’s capital, where they will visit the World War II Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery as part of their Honor Flight.
And there’s a sense of urgency behind the trip. The average veteran is in his or her early 90s. More than 550 vets die every day, according to recent U.S. Veterans Administration figures.
Soon their stories will be lost.
Very few of these veterans have had a chance to see the memorial, which was dedicated in 2005. Most of them want a chance to pay their last respects to their comrades lost in battle more than 70 years ago.
Wendy Pearce’s father is one of those veterans who fought in World War II. Manley Abbott of Delta flew 25 combat missions as a belly gunner on a B-17 bomber.
“I know my dad wants to go because he’s never been there,” Pearce said. “I want to be there.”
But, her brother is already accompanying her father on the Honor Flight.
That’s why Pearce volunteered to join the Honor Flight Guardians: to share this experience when her dad and the other vets visited their memorial. She’ll accompany Frances Allen, who joined the Navy with a friend in 1943.
“We thought, ‘well, we’re pretty patriotic; we should go,’” said Allen, who joined in South Bend, Indiana. “We were so excited to be doing something.”
She previously worked as a civilian on a military base, but that wasn’t enough for her.
“I’m telling you, if you didn’t join something, you were sort of an outcast,” Allen said.
Allen’s jobs included keeping records, sterilizing beds and giving medical assistance as a pharmacist’s mate at a receiving hospital in Boston.
“The support roles were absolutely necessary,” Pearce said. “Had they not had all the support that they had, the missions would not have been successful.”
Today at 95, Allen is eager to share stories with other Utah vets.
“I’m just really anxious to talk to them,” she said.
Pearce knows the experience will stir her own patriotism, too.
“They saved the world, they didn’t just make the United States free,” Pearce said.
Pearce was one of many Guardian on the trip. As each pushed their assigned veteran through the airport, they were each given a hero's salute.
"It's beautiful. There's no explanation for it. It's lovely," said Gary Thomas, a veteran of the Korean War.
Quentin Murdock was moved to tears as he saw the reception. The veteran of Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944 also fought through North Africa as part of "the greatest generation."
"I was exposed to being killed for two years," Murdock said. "I can't imagine how I made it home."
He was awarded a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars, but never got a real homecoming welcome.
The veterans will go to the World War II Memorial on Tuesday morning. From there, they will move to the Vietnam War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
For those who served like Murdock, it will be the first chance to see a monument dedicated to their sacrifices, and the lives lost among their comrades.
"I've been wanting to see that, and this has been a great opportunity," said Owen Staley, a World War II veteran from Coalville. "I kind of put it in the back of my mind for years. This brought to my attention that people really care."
Most of the veterans on the flight spoke little of the war over the years. But on this day, they openly felt the gratitude of fellow Americans.
KSL will partner with Honor Flight on the journey. For information about how you can help our state’s heroes, visit UtahHonorFlight.org.
Contributing: Sean Walker