WASHINGTON DC — Forty-nine World War II and Korean War veterans from Cedar City and St. George are on their way to Washington, DC on a Utah Honor Flight, visiting national memorials on Friday.
The Honor Flight project, that takes place across the country, has not only given thousands of veterans a chance to visit the memorial dedicated in their honor, it has also rekindled awareness and interest in World War II.
These men, and four women, remember their missions and the sacrifices of their comrades as the trip unfolds.
"It gives that little spark there, that says, hey, you know, it's beautiful. And we appreciate it," Fred Frost, a World War II veteran said.
Among them, soldiers who fought in the Battle of The Bulge, Marines who saw fierce fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and others who filled vital roles here at home.
"I had a good friend in Parowan that went to the last one. I hadn't really done much with veterans. I figured, hey, the war's over, I'm out of the Marines. But he comes over to my house, and he said, 'Tom, you've got to that veterans' World War II reunion," Tom Harris, World War II veteran said.
During World War II and before the dawn of instant communication, mail call was one of the greatest treats for the troops.
On the Utah Honor Flight, mail call catches the veterans by surprise and takes them back to those powerful feelings they felt when they were miles from home.
Letters from home, written months before, would light up the lives of the young men at war.
Today, those letters are from grandchildren, great-grandchildren and Utah school children — letters of thanks for the sacrifices they made seven decades ago.
"I didn't count these. How many are there? I got 16 or 17. They tell me that they appreciate what I did. They love me and honor me for it,” Merlin Christiansen, a Navy Veteran, said.
"It makes you feel like you don't deserve all that, you know. Even the guys that really put enough to life, probably be embarrassed," Ross Spencer, World War II veteran said.
Honor Flight has raised the kind of applause these veterans never got when they came home. Thus far, more than 400 Utah veterans have made this previous flight because of the generosity of KSL viewers and key KSL sponsors, as well as many other people across the state.
Four high schools, three middle schools and several elementary schools have also raised money to get these veterans here.
Utah state legislators have also made a significant contribution from out of their own pockets.
The program has blossomed and 300 more Utah Veterans will make this journey in the fall.
For now, this group from Cedar City and St. George will soak in the recognition and await a meaningful day at the memorials.