Marion Hill is impressed by memorial dedicated to WII veterans
Seeing the Washington, D.C., monuments - including the World War II Memorial - was the thrill of a lifetime for Summerfield resident and WWII veteran Marion Hill, who took the four-day trip in late May with his son Steve, who himself is a Vietnam War veteran. (The two are pictured at the top of the front page.)
The trips are provided free of charge by the non-profit Honor Flight Network to veterans and their companions or guardians, which also provides the vets with matching shirts emblazoned with WWII insignias plus hats with their name and the word "veteran" embroidered on them.
Each trip includes about 50 veterans plus another 50 companions, so once in the nation's Capital, two buses are used to transport the participants around Washington, D.C.
The Hills' tour group stayed at a hotel in Alexandra, Va., and a problem cropped up the first morning.
"On the very first day, bus No. 2 didn't show up on time, which threw the tour director into a real tizzy," Marion Hill said. "Everything was exactly timed, so that threw our schedule off. We got to the U.S. Capitol late for breakfast, and Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Greg Walden came in. Wyden shook hands with everyone, and they both gave speeches.
"Then we were divided into two groups and got a shortened tour that included the Rotunda and Statuary Hall. Also that day, we saw the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, which showed all the different roles women play as nurses and pilots and other jobs."
The next morning's first stop was the World War II Memorial, which was dedicated May 29, 2004, in honor of the 16 million who served in the U.S. armed forces during WWII.
"It is a very fine memorial," Hill said. "There is an Atlantic side and a Pacific side to represent the two fronts of the war, and each state has its own granite column. The memorial was very impressive and very emotional for us veterans to see.
"There were marble carvings of the different activities that went on during the war, and I liked that most of all - it really captured the spirit of WWII. And Freedom Wall was impressive - it is a wall of more than 4,000 gold stars, with each star representing 100 of the approximately 400,000 who died or were missing. The whole thing was nicely done.
"And while we were there, people would walk up to us, shake our hands and say, 'Thank you.' I was amazed at the number of people who came up to us. In fact, as we went around, people lining up to get into the various places would start clapping for us."
(Hill served in the Army Air Corps during WWII and was hit by gunfire shot from a German anti-aircraft Messerschmitt 109 fighter strafing his squadron's airfield on the front lines in Metz, France.)
At the Lincoln Memorial, the veterans group sang, "God Bless America," and "when we were done, everyone clapped and cheered," Hill said.
Later, while most of the group went to the Vietnam Memorial, the Hills visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, where they were impressed by the 19 larger-than-life statues of a squad in full combat gear on patrol.
Other stops included the Air Force Memorial and the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, just outside Arlington National Cemetery.
"At the Air Force Memorial, there was a brass band that played several patriotic songs in our honor, and the band members mingled with us afterwards, and we had a good view of Washington, D.C.," Hill said. "And one night we visited the Navy Memorial."
Arlington National Cemetery with its Tomb of the Unknowns is impressive to visit, and the Hills got a special view of the changing of the guard ceremony.
"Steve was pushing me in a wheelchair, and we were waved to an aisle right next to where the soldiers stand guard and march," Hill said. "I counted their steps - 21 - then they did an about-face and took 21 more steps. They take 21 steps because a 21-gun salute is the highest honor that can be given.
"We had a ringside seat for the changing of the guard - it was emotional to watch. We also saw two wreath-laying ceremonies."
A trip to Washington, D.C., is not complete without a visit to one or more of the Smithsonian museums, and the military group went to the downtown National Air and Space Museum, where such national treasures as Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and a lunar lander are on exhibit.
Another stop was the Air and Space Museum located near Washington Dulles International Airport, where the veterans were split into two groups to see an IMAX movie on space travel, and people waiting in line applauded the veterans; the groups also viewed the exhibits, some of which were very familiar to Hill from his Army Air Corps days.
"We saw a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter, which we nicknamed the 'Jug' because it would come back shot up from missions but still flying," Hill said. "It engaged the Luftwaffe in dog fights and supported the front line by strafing and bombing the enemy."
The veterans' group left Washington, D.C., on time, but flight delays caused by storms hitting the Midwest prevented them from getting home until the early hours of the next morning.
"It took me four days to recover," said Hill, who was in and out of Washington, D.C. during the war. He worked there as a mail messenger for the Navy Bureau of Ships for three years before joining the Army Air Corps; he met his wife Susan in Washington, D.C., in 1942, and they were married there at Walter Reed General Hospital in 1945. Hill was still recovering from his war wounds when they married, although he was not a patient at Walter Reed.
"I knew some of the veterans on the trip had never seen the Capital, but I was nostalgic to see it again and I wanted to see it in the modern times," Hill said.
For more information on the Honor Flight Network program, visit www.honorflight.org or call 1-937-521-2400.