Local WW II vets tour D.C. Effort was a tribute to those who served

Published 1:32 am Monday, May 14, 2007

By By POLLY UNTERZUBER, Special To The Daily News
There was many a misty eye when 100 eastern North Carolinian World War II veterans, aboard what was called the Memorial Flight, landed at Washington’s Reagan Airport in our nation’s capital Saturday morning.
Taxiing to the terminal, the veterans were saluted by two fire trucks, one on each side of the plane, spraying it with water.
In the terminal there was an unanticipated reception by hundreds of boisterous well wishers, anxious to greet and thank these members of “The Greatest Generation” for fighting the battles and guarding the shores of our country.
Legionnaires dispersed traditional red poppies, many participants waved miniature American flags while others were eager to shake the hands of the veterans, many of whom were in wheelchairs or using walkers and canes. One Navy man had a cane with a seat on it.
It was an emotional and appreciated reception for these WW II veterans, some grizzled, many paunchy, but still with the spirit that saw them to victory. They were on their way to visit the World War II Memorial, the highlight of the trip, also the Navy Memorial, the National Air and Space Museum and Arlington National Cemetery. And it was all at no expense for the veterans. Donations by eastern North Carolina businesses and individuals made the flight possible, although the coordinator admitted she is still a few dollars shy.
“This was a way to say ‘thank you’ to these veterans,” said retired Army Captain Pam Morgan, the originator and coordinator of the trip that turned into the Memorial Flight. A native of Tarboro, Morgan proved her organizational skills as she maneuvered the 100 veterans and 48 volunteers onto the plane and then buses carrying them to the various destinations.
The volunteer guardians, ranging from staff members to spouses, other family members and friends, Boy Scouts and neighbors, made it possible for these men, and three women – WW II nurses – to make this trip despite physical handicaps.
Approximately 36 veterans from Beaufort County were among the passengers.
Taking off from Pitt-Greenville Airport shortly after the scheduled 9 a.m. departure time, the group arrived in the capital in a little over half an hour.
Charter buses were waiting and after the much-appreciated reception, the 100 veterans and 48 volunteer guardians were transported to the World War II Memorial. They were also treated to the sight of the Washington Monument shortly after passing the Jefferson Memorial.
For some of the veterans who had served their country around the world, this was their first visit to our nation’s capital to view any of the memorials and certainly not the magnificent edifice erected in their honor.
On hand at the memorial was former Senator Robert Dole, also a WW II veteran and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He shook hands and talked with the veterans and volunteers. Dole is perhaps best known as the husband of our North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole.
Breakfast, lunch and supper were provided for all on the Memorial Flight, and following the noon meal the group divided into those wanting to visit the National Air and Space Museum, the Navy Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. The buses returned the veterans and volunteers to the airport for a 6 p.m. departure.
Morgan was relieved when she found that she had left Greenville that morning with 148 on board and also returned with the same number that evening.
It was a long and tiring day for the veterans, the youngest being 80, but only praise for the tour and its coordinator, Morgan, was expressed by those on board the Memorial Flight. Morgan agreed it was a formidable task arranging the plane trip, but said now she’s done one, she’s ready to tackle another. In fact, she already has more WW II veterans and volunteers in eastern North Carolina signed up.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Polly Unterzuber was aboard the Memorial Flight Saturday as a volunteer, accompanying her World War II veteran husband, Gene.