- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - His reflection took him back in history, placing him alongside the American soldiers etched in the black granite of the Wall of Remembrance. Looking at the 19 stainless steel statues of the Korean War Memorial, James Gilliland recognized himself - a gunner in the Marine Corps in 1952 - in one of the soldiers.

He said he remembers digging foxholes - holes deep enough to kneel in - to protect himself from the enemy’s bullets. He said he remembers sleeping on hard ground, when he wasn’t on lookout duty, with his machine gun tucked close by his side. He said he remembers frigid winters and walking, a lot, in what he called Mickey Mouse boots.

“(The Korean War Memorial) brought back memories of the things people sacrificed,” Gilliland said. “I helped earn that memorial.”

Gilliland was one of 84 World War II and Korean War veterans to make the one-day trip on the fifth Tuscaloosa Rotary Flight to Washington, D.C., Wednesday to visit the war memorials.

The veterans and their guardians - children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and other family members - visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington, Va., and the World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lincoln memorials in Washington.

Chuck Turner, president of the Rotary Club of Tuscaloosa, said the organization joined the national Honor Flight Network in 2010 because it is important to honor veterans with the respect they deserve and to show younger generations the sacrifices made for our freedom.

“It’s really to honor those that have served and paid the price,” Turner said. “These people built a nation with their sacrifice.”

The organization charters a plane and buses and provides meals throughout the day on each trip at no cost to terminally ill or elderly WWII and Korean War veterans. Turner said the organization pays for the trips through fundraisers and guardian fees. It costs approximately $80,000 per trip.

“A number of people in World War II have health issues or can’t afford to go, so the idea is to enable (veterans) to see their memorials,” he said. “A lot of these veterans haven’t been to their memorial.”

The visit was a first for Navy WWII veteran Pete Megois. He stood still among the crowd milling about in wheelchairs, on bikes, scooters and on foot in the middle of the WWII Memorial.

“It touches you,” he said. “I had a lot of good friends killed in World War II. If they could just see it.”

Megois said his only hope is that no one forgets what happened in WWII.

“I’m afraid time is going to wipe it away,” he said.

He said that with two cancers and three strokes over the past few years, this will be his first and last trip to the memorials.

It was Gilliland’s third trip, but he had never seen his memorial, a memorial that drudged up memories so painful, he got a faraway look in his eyes and grimaced, saying, “I can’t tell a story. I don’t want to tell a story.”

“Throughout the course of the day, I think some memories and realities (from the war) flow back to them,” Turner said. “At the end of the day, I think they’re humbled that somebody would do this for them.”

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Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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