SALT LAKE CITY — During the past year, Utah Honor Flight has flown nearly 500 World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., thanks to the generosity of Utahns.
All day Wednesday, volunteers took calls at KSL Broadcast House and accepted donations to help send 200 more veterans to see the war memorial dedicated in their honor.
In the year KSL-TV has partnered with Utah Honor Flight, the community has given tremendous support to the charity. Many of the veterans who have been on the flights said the emotion and the camaraderie on that journey caught them by surprise.
"I think we were a proud bunch of guys," said Don Pullan, of Salt Lake City.
During World War II, he went ashore at Utah Beach a few days after D-Day and liberated concentration camps in Germany. When he visited the World War II Memorial on a Utah Honor Flight, he reflected on his friends who did not come home.
"To see them get wasted because of something like that ... It brought me to tears," Pullan said.
Experiences, painful and joyous, resurfaced for him at the memorial.
"It really stirred your emotions," Pullan said. "It made you realize the whole world was a bad place to be in."
Mike Turner, chairman of Utah Honor Flight, says the trip turns back their emotional clocks.
"The emotions finally come out that they've held back for years," Turner said. "When they come through this, the closure is just there, and it stays. It's not just a one-day deal."
Right now, there are 7,500 surviving World War II veterans in Utah. Nationwide, the veterans from that war are dying at a rate of 700 a day. That's why, Turner said, there is urgency to this mission.
"If we don't do it now, they may not be here next year to do it for," he said.
Jack Tueller of Bountiful flew 144 combat missions over Germany and played "Danny Boy" for the troops thousands of times on his trumpet.
"I was the only non-drinker among 90 pilots. The more they drank, the better I sounded," he said with a laugh.
The Utah Honor Flight last month reminded Tueller how much he enjoyed being with his fellow servicemen and what he valued from his service seven decades ago.
"It made me appreciate my fellow man," he said. "It taught me a great lesson on how to respect your enemy."
That's why it's important to donate now and become part of Utah Honor Flight. If you'd like to contribute, you can do so at utahhonorflight.org or at any Mountain America Credit Union.