News: Greatest Generation tours again
Story by Sgt. Marcy Sanchez
POOLER, Ga. - “You know there is a saying that sunshine follows rain, And sure enough you’ll realize that joy will follow pain. Let courage be your password, Make fortitude your guide; And then instead of grousing, Just remember those who died.”
The passage, from a poem titled “Can you take it?” written by an anonymous source about World War II, underlines the esprit de corps that unifies the veterans of World War II and the Korean War.
In an act of respect to those who gave so much, more than 50 Marines and sailors from the Tri-Command area gathered with the legendary veterans to speak about military times over half a century ago.
The service members spoke with the veterans prior to the veterans’ departure for Washington, D.C., as part of the Honor Flight Network’s initiative of getting as many WWII and Korean War Veterans as possible to D.C.
According to the Department of Defense, there was a combined 443,000 service members who were killed in action during World War II and the Korean War, and a total of about 18 million served during the two conflicts.
While in Washington, D.C., the veterans will visit the World War II Memorial, a memorial built in 2004 that is a reminder of the sacrifice, unity and service of a unique generation of Americans.
They will also visit the Korean War Memorial, a memorial that honors the nation’s sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.
“We transport veterans, from both South Carolina and Georgia to [Washington D.C.] totally free to the veterans so they can see all the memorials,” said retired Air Force Col. Ed Wexler, chairman of Honor Flight Savannah.
Aside from visiting the World War II and Korean War Memorials, the group will also visit the Iwo Jima Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, and The Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
“We expect to be met by several general officers stationed at the Pentagon to talk to our veterans and thank them for their service, it’s a full day,” said Wexler.
The trip, anticipated by 31 World War II and Korean War veterans, is an annual event that Honor Flight has sponsored since 2005 when six small planes flew 12 World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. The following year the list expanded rapidly.
“The [World War II] memorial wasn’t completed until 2004, about 60 years after the war was over,” said Wexler. “A lot of those veterans have since passed away and as they’re getting up in age it’s getting harder and harder for them to make this trip up to Washington, so we want to get as many veterans as we can to go see the memorial that was built in their honor.”
One veteran making the journey anticipates the tour with hopes of meeting up with some of his war “buddies.”
“Like everyone, I hated to go but I had a lot of company,” said George Hunt. “When I got there, there was a job to do. You got used to it like going to work.”
The 87-year-old World War II veteran remembers his tour well, having served on the frontlines from 1944 – 1946 with the U.S. Army’s 75th Division as an infantryman.
“I was over there for two years; I was all over Europe,” said Hunt. “Two hectic years,” he added as he glazed over the fellow veterans who will join him on the trip.
The 75th Division was involved in multiple battles of World War II near the end of the war when Germany surrendered to the Allies, to include the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne, Belgium.
“When the Germans made that last push in 1944, in the winter … it was pretty rough,” said Hunt. “The Germans were circled, full army, and then the weather cleared, the planes started to drive them out. We were kicked around a bit.”
During his tour, Hunt lost half a finger to enemy fire and gained some scars that still remind him of the world’s largest battle.
“I got wounded before making it to Berlin,” said Hunt as he started feeling around for wounds. “I lost part of my finger, got some scars.”
For his wounds during battle, Hunt was awarded the Purple Heart. He was later awarded a Bronze Star with valor for actions in combat.
Hunt, now a widower and father of four, is one of many with similar stories making the trip to Washington.
“It’s a humbling experience,” said Lance Cpl. Kahal Lattin, a ground support equipment electrician with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31. “Down the road when you’re an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran their age, you’re going to be the one walking down aisles with everyone saluting you, it’s motivating.”
According to Lattin, while in formation saluting the veterans as they prepared to board, a veteran was passing by and mentioned the event was the most honored he had ever been in his life.
“To be a part of that, for guys who have done so much more than what most have done at the Air Station and in today’s Marine Corps, for a guy shot down in  to say that this was the most honored he’d been in his life, it’s a pretty big experience,” said Lattin, a 19-year-old native of San Diego.
As veterans boarded buses to transport them to the airport, U.S. flags lined the pathway along with service members who rendered salutes to the 31 men and women who served our country more than 60 years ago. The group is just a small portion of the 18 million that served during the two wars, but are nonetheless respected for their courage and patriotism.
“We’re going to have a great time,” said Wexler. “We owe it to these veterans of World War II and Korea.”