Area World War II vets head to Washington memorials
A group of World War II veterans embark on a trip to Washington DC. For many, this is their first time visiting the very memorial in their honor. Video by fox4now.comvideo
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Former World War II Prisoner of War Earl Haun waited years for this day.
"I'm anxious to see the memorial," said Haun, a retired U.S Air Force tech sergeant. "I never thought I'd get to see it."
Haun's patience paid off. The 89-year-old boarded a flight to the nation's capitol, where 50 local veterans and their guardians visited three war memorials and Arlington National Cemetery.
"It's nice to see all these guys make it, a lot of my buddies didn't make it," added Haun.
At sunrise, the members of the Southwest Florida Honor Flight prepared for a trip in their honor.
"Whatever your station is in life, it's only because of these World War II veterans," said Donald Vecoli, 67, a retired U.S Navy master chief petty officer and the founder of the organization. This is Vecoli's 10th trip with the group.
They arrived in Washington D.C at 11 a.m. Many were anxious for the highlight, to see the World War II Memorial.
"This is a day of ups and downs," explained Vecoli. "They're gonna laugh, they're gonna cry."
And many may leave painful memories behind.
"This is a pleasant experience and the Bulge was a very terrible experience," said retired U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Vandamme, 90, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the worst of World War II.
His friend, retired U.S. Air Force Sgt. Mike Shipley, recalled Vietnam. "I survived," he said.
Twice a year, the Southwest Florida Honor Flight takes a new group to DC. It's a chance for them to make peace with their past.
"It's paying tribute to these World War II veterans, who are in fact the greatest generation."
They returned to Fort Myers at 6:30 p.m.. The trip is paid for by area veteran groups.