On April 12, 2011, six San Saba County WWII Veterans along with 204 others were privileged to go to Washington DC to view the WWII Memorial plus several other attractions. Those attending from San Saba County were Benton Miller, Robert Lewis, Press Adams, Wilton Jackson, Johnny Oswald and Paul Wilson. George Rogers was instrumental in getting the local group organized.
The plan of a flight to honor WWII Vets started with a dream of Jeff Ballenger's. He and his team have conducted eight Honor Flights from his state of Iowa. He has ties to this area including college and grandparents so he enlisted the help of Hardin Simmons University President Dr. Lanny Hall and with the help of others, they raised enough money to pay for two Boeing 737 jets, bus fare and meals for the veterans. From the time the veterans boarded buses to take them from motel to airport and back from airport to motel, they did not have to pay for anything. Dr. Hall said that funding came from area foundations, businesses and individuals.
The veterans were asked to complete information forms for trip reservations in advance and if they indicated that they would need assistance, such as wheel chairs, personal or medical support, it was planned and they were taken care of very well by personal escorts on plane, bus, and walking.
A very special beginning to the trip actually started Monday night with the bus trip from the motel to Abilene Civic Center for a delicious meal furnished by HEB. Eleven large buses loaded with vets, and their helpers plus wives who were invited to share the meal and entertainment left the motel parking lot with fifty-six Patriot Guard motorcyclists leading the way with large U.S. Flags waving high. Other escorts were Abilene policemen and firemen. It was surprising and overwhelming to see traffic stopped, and people of all ages lined the streets waving flags and holding signs saying things such as "Thank you." "We Remember" and "God Bless You and God Bless America." Even a day school had the little children lined up and waving flags. There were some emotional tears shed by people in the buses. The buses were met at the Civic Center by the Hardin Simmons Band playing patriotic songs and, as veterans entered the building and children handed them very special letters of appreciation that they had written for them.
When they landed at Dulles Airport on Tuesday morning, the Vets were greeted by firemen spraying water as a salute to them. Also fire boats sprayed water high into the sky as a welcome to the WWII Veteran memorial. The veterans were easily identified by their red caps and purple tee shirts so even the tourist were friendly, shook their hands and told them thank you.
The WWII Memorial was authorized in 1993. There were setbacks and controversy but it was completed in 2004 to honor the 16 million who served and of whom over 400,000 gave their lives.
In addition to the WWII Memorial, they enjoyed seeing the Iowa Jima monument with the U.S. Flag flying high, the Korean Monument with lifelike statues of soldiers in the battlefield, the Air Force Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, the Wall of Stars, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Tower, the Roosevelt Memorial wildlife area, the Kennedy Memorial area, Robert E. Lee's house and Audie Murphy's grave. They watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the beautiful rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery. Some of the group on one bus got a driving tour to see the White House, Capitol Building and Treasury Building.
Tuesday was a long day starting at 2:00 a.m. to have a light breakfast at the motel, then board buses to Abilene Regional Airport for the three hour plane ride to Washington DC. Then riding buses and walking until boarding planes for the trip back to Abilene and arriving back at the motel Wednesday morning about 1:30 a.m. However, all agreed it was well worth the effort. It was an experience they will never forget. Several much younger helpers and escorts remarked, "That is a tough bunch of old men."