Posted: Sep 25, 2012 7:35 AM by Angela Douglas - Q2 News
Updated: Sep 25, 2012 7:35 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The World War II Memorial honors the 16 million who served in uniform and the 400,000 who died in the line of duty.
On Monday, 87 Montana WWII veterans with the Big Sky Honor Flight were able to tour the memorial in Washington, D.C.
"This is a once in a lifetime experience," said Billings Navy veteran Michael Rhodes, 85. "I never thought that I would ever make it out here."
Fellow veteran Jim Vick, of Billings, agreed.
"It's just outstanding," the 85-year-old Navy veteran said. "I just feel so honored to be here."
It has been more than 60 years since the veterans served in WWII and finally, all these years later, they're able to visit their memorial. It's a moment that many have been waiting years for and it's an experience they're happy to share with each other.
"I feel very, very humbled in the presence of some of these men," said Navy veteran Harold Lasater, 86, of Forsyth. "Very humbled."
"I never realized it'd be like this," admitted Billings Army veteran Paul Messer, 89. "It's been great. Wonderful."
"Brings back a lot of memories and we just feel that we're the lucky ones," added Billings Navy veteran Tom Hanel, 86. "That we're her to be able to do this."
"I've enjoyed this tremendously," beamed Rhodes. "Especially this memorial here. I think it beats them all."
After spending some time walking around the memorial, remembering their fallen comrades and reflecting on their past, the veterans traveled to Arlington National Cemetery where they watched the changing of the guard at Tomb of the Unknowns. Since 1936 the tomb has been guarded by the military.
In addition to the WWII Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, the Montana veterans made two other stops on the whirlwind tour of the nation's capitol on Monday.
The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial depicts the battle of Iwo Jima, when marines raised the American flag on Japanese territory.
Rounding out their trip was the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial; the landmark dedicated to president who led "The Greatest Generation" through WWII.
They sacrificed everything to ensure America's freedom and, even still, they're humbled by the generosity of the generations they saved.
"It's just phenomenal," Vick said emotionally. "The people that put this together, my heart goes out to them."
"This whole experience has just been incredible," added Lasater.
The Big Sky Honor Flight hopes to send three more flights next year. If you would like to donate, visit bigskyhonorflight.org.
The veterans arrived in Billings shortly after 8 p.m. Monday. There was a cheering crowd of hundreds of people waiting for them at the baggage claim. Truly, a hero's welcome.