WWII Veterans Honored
A USF student and Army veteran escorts a WWII veteran to Washington, D.C. to visit war memorials as part of an “honor flight.”
TAMPA, Fla. (July 19, 2011) – Hundreds of World War II veterans across the country die every day, many without having seen the memorials dedicated to their service.
More than 65 years after risking their lives in service to their country, they are succumbing to sickness and old age, making it even more difficult to make the trip to Washington, D.C.
An organization called Honor Flight Network is changing that, making it possible every year for thousands of veterans to be flown out to the nation’s capital free of charge and be personally escorted to the memorials.
One lucky University of South Florida student was sponsored by the Rotary Club of New Tampa Evening to be a guardian for the June 2011 flight. They wanted an Afghanistan or Iraq veteran to be able to volunteer to assist the older veterans throughout the trip.
Cesar Marin, a junior and public health major at USF, is an army veteran who has toured both Iraq and Afghanistan. Marin was approached by Larry Braue, the faculty advisor of the Student Veterans Association, to accept the rotary club’s sponsorship.
Marin was paired up with 91-year-old Allen Duesing, a WWII Army veteran who served in the 107th Mounted Cavalry Regiment from Cincinnati, Ohio for six years.
“He was a real good guy,” Marin said. “He was really exited about the trip. He’d been on the waiting list for two years and hadn’t been to D.C. in 20 years so he was excited to check out the new WWII memorial and the changes that had happened.”
The trip only took them to Washington D.C. for a day, Marin said, but the 70 veterans who went were so grateful. They were from all branches of the military and the oldest among them was 97.
Most of the veterans on the Honor Flight Network trips are from World War II, but the organization also honors veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Trained staff and medical personnel were on hand to accommodate and treat veterans with disabilities and medical needs. Along with the pilots and guardians, they escorted veterans around the capital to sites such as the WWII Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial and Lincoln Memorial.
“Without these veterans, we wouldn’t have any of those memorials or the freedoms we have now,” Marin said. “It was a really big deal. A lot of them were extremely humble and said they were afraid to get drafted and just did what they needed to do and looked out for the guy next to them. The same could be said about today’s veterans. No one goes over there trying to be a hero or win medals, just trying to make sure they make it back and their buddies make it back and it was very comforting to be in the presence of those people.”
After arriving back home, the veterans were met with a hero’s welcome at the St. Petersburg airport. Marin said hundreds of people lined the aisles with signs and American flags, cheering them as they walked from the terminal.
“The entire airport was packed full of people thanking them for their service,” Marin said. “It was like they walked into a parade.”
Some of those waiting to welcome the veterans home were family members of those who were guests on the Honor Flight, like Duesing’s son.
“He thanked me for my service and taking the time from my schedule to go on the trip with his father,” Marin said. “I should have been thanking them more than they were thanking me.”
Daylina Miller can be reached at 813-500-8754.