Utah WWII vets thankful for memorial flight

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SALT LAKE CITY — World War II veteran Fred Roberts can't find the words to express his gratitude for the recognition of his service and sacrifice.

"There was an interim there where World War II was forgotten. At first, it was kept up on. But then later on it just kind of dropped and everything as if there was no war. Just lately, in the last two years or so, I noticed that they're being honored more," he said.

Roberts was among 66 Utahns — 64 men, two women — from the "Greatest Generation" who received a hero's sendoff Thursday on the Utah Honor Flight bound for Washington, D.C., to visit the memorial built for them.

Family, friends and community leaders gathered at a Utah Air National Guard hangar to salute the veterans, ranging in age from 87 to 98. Patriot Guard motorcycle riders escorted their buses to the Salt Lake City International Airport.

KSL is sponsoring the flight and raised more than $70,000 from viewers and listeners to help cover expenses for two more planned Utah Honor Flight trips this year. It costs about $1,000 to send a veteran to Washington.

A guardian, usually a family member or friend, accompanies each veteran on the three-day trip that includes visits to the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. Guardians pay their own way.

In Roberts' case, his guardian is a man he didn't meet until two weeks ago. Steve Cheever, of Murray, volunteered after missing the chance to go with his own father on an Honor Flight out of Colorado last summer. Cheever's dad dies shortly after returning home.

"I'm doing this in his honor," Cheever said, adding he also extremely honored to accompany Roberts and Roberts' wife of 65 years, Mary.

Roberts hasn't seen the memorial, and he gets emotional thinking about what it might mean to him.

"At my age, I think this is the last chance I'll ever get to see it," the 88-year-old Ogden man said.

Roberts enlisted in the Navy at age 17. He served as a radio operator on a destroyer in Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Philippines.

The soul-stirring sounds of a bagpipe band marked a procession of veterans in wheelchairs through the airport. Airline passengers stopped their conversations and stood to applaud as their guardians pushed them through the terminal.

Gov. Gary Herbert greeted them at the gate and wished them well on their trip.

"It nice to be able to pay tribute today to these survivors," said Herbert, whose father-in-law was an Air Force pilot in World War II. "We ought to never forget the sacrifice of our World War II veterans. We can't say thank you enough."


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