World War II vets head to memorial named in their honor
They were delayed, but there was no way they were going to be denied.
A group of 112 World War II veterans from western Colorado will board a charter flight at Grand Junction Regional Airport this morning and head for the Washington, D.C., area as part of a whirlwind trip to visit a memorial dedicated to them.
Trip organizers hope that when the veterans return to Grand Junction on Wednesday evening, they will receive the kind of welcome most of them didn’t get when they returned from the South Pacific and Europe more than 60 years ago.
The trip was put together by the Western Slope Honor Flight, an offshoot of a national organization that flies veterans at no charge to the nation’s capital to visit memorials erected in their honor.
The veterans originally were scheduled to go to Washington in May. But the trip was postponed because the aircraft, an Airbus, was the same kind that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in New York City in January. The airplane manufacturer recalled some of its planes, including the jetliner for the Honor Flight, according to Kevin Wodlinger, a Vietnam veteran and member of the American Legion post that organized the flight.
The change of plans allowed organizers to raise enough money to pay for the trip, Wodlinger said, but the delay cost some veterans the opportunity to go. Some died, and a few others backed out because of failing health, he said.
The group will fly to Baltimore and then visit Arlington National Cemetery and witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Wednesday morning, the group will visit the National World War II Memorial and other war and veterans memorials before flying back to Grand Junction Wednesday evening.
When the plane lands around 5:20 p.m., veterans should have quite the homecoming.
The Centennial Band will greet them both on the tarmac and inside the airport. They will receive an honor guard salute at the gate. And when they leave the airport, they will be sent off by the Grand Junction and Fruita Monument high school marching bands.
Wodlinger hopes residents show up at the airport with American flags and signs and cheering.
“These veterans, when they came back from World War II, they came back either before the war ended or several weeks or months after it ended,” he said. “They didn’t get the ticker tape parade that we see on the History Channel. These veterans came back to the Midwest, they came back to their family farms, they spent the night sharing their stories with their families. They went to bed, and the very next day they went out and went looking for jobs.
“They never got the homecoming they deserved.”