Veterans Day 2011
As an aide grabbed the back of his belt to steady him, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole stood before the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., and greeted a group of veterans. He offered his left hand for them to shake. His right arm, as many Kansans know, has been paralyzed since 1945, a casualty of the war fought by him and the veterans he greeted.
Dole, 88, often spends his Saturdays greeting World War II veterans from across the country. The veterans fly to the capital for free, through an organization Dole helped make possible. They come to see a memorial he helped raise money to build.
“It means a lot to me to be out here,” Dole said. He has two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. Dole, who has had knee and hip replacements, leaned crookedly as veterans in wheelchairs and those using canes lined up around him for pictures and handshakes.
“Look at these young guys over here. Come on over for a picture,” Dole said.
He is chairman of the World War II monument. He, along with co-chairman Frederick W. Smith, led the funding campaign.
“Thank you for your service, and welcome to your monument,” a greeter said as he welcomed the veterans to the memorial. With World War II veterans aging and dying, many will never hear those words.
Honor Flights Network is working to change that.
Since 2005, the network has flown more than 60,000 veterans into the nation’s capital to see their memorial. More than 400 veterans have been flown into D.C. through Rocky Mountain Honor Flights, which finished its 11th trip in October. President Mary Haddon said the flights, funded through private donations, take about 35 veterans to the capital three to four times a year.
There are 200 names on the waiting list.
Rocky Mountain Honor Flights is one of more than 100 hubs in the Honor Flights Network.
Retired Air Force Capt. Earl Morse conceived the network in 2005. As a physician assistant he saw that because of financial, mental and physical constraints, flying to see the memorial was not a reality for many veterans.
Dole is an honorary adviser for the organization. And if he’s in Washington when Honor Flights land, he comes to meet the veterans. He has been to the memorial more than 140 times since it opened in 2004. The one year he missed, he was in the hospital.
Guardians make the trips possible. Guardians — Honor Flight volunteers — often pay their own way and care for the veterans throughout the trip.
One of them is Joyce Davis, a floating guardian from Greensboro, N.C. She’s about as old as the two veterans in her care: James Nance, 88, from the 36th Army Infantry, and William D. Bowman, 86, who served as a supply technician for the Army Air Corps. Both are in wheelchairs.
This visit to the memorial was the second for Bowman, who volunteered for the war when he was 18 and was stationed in England.
“I started home in 1946,” Bowman said. “I was glad to see the Statue of Liberty when we came in.”
Davis said she’s been to the memorial many times.
“In fact, June of a year ago I brought my husband up here on a veterans appreciation tour,” Davis said. Her husband, a wounded prisoner of war, was the special guest of U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., during the dedication of the memorial in May 2004.
Davis’ husband died last May.
“I’m doing this kind of as a memorial to him,” she said.