- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Milton Rayburn’s heartbeat sped up as he walked up to the towering World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., last year for the first time. Walking through the entrance, a 6-year-old girl took his hand in hers and said, “Thank you for your service.”

Rayburn, 92, served three years in the U.S. Army during World War II.

He was one of about 80 veterans to take the fifth Honor Flight, a free flight for WWII and Korean War veterans from Tuscaloosa to Washington, D.C., to tour the war memorials.

“It was one of the best things I’ve done in my life,” Rayburn said.

Veterans can now sign up for the sixth Honor Flight, which will be May 6. In addition to the war memorials, the trip includes stops at the Lincoln Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, where the veterans visit the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the changing of the guard ceremony.

Chuck Turner, president of the club, said the Honor Flight was created to give veterans a chance to see the war memorials before they become too elderly to travel.

He said it’s about honoring the veterans who have served the country while educating younger generations about past wars and their importance to American history.

“The biggest thing is to honor their service, but it’s an education I think we all need to have as to the value that this country has and the values it stands for,” Turner said.

The one-day trip is exciting and therapeutic for the veterans to see the memorials they helped earn, but it has an effect on their guardians as well, he said.

On one of the Honor Flights, Turner took, he escorted a veteran to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He said he explained how the man could look up a name to find it on The Wall and trace it onto a piece of paper.

Finding the name he sought, the veteran stood quietly next to Turner for a few minutes before Turner said, “You must have lost someone.”

“Yes. My son,” the veteran told Turner.

That was the first time he had seen his son’s memorial, and it was because of the Honor Flight, Turner said. He said, for him, it was a poignant moment as well.

“Sometimes it’s cathartic for (veterans),” Turner said. “The people who go on the Honor Flight as guardians, we don’t come back the same individuals either. We’re moved.”

The Rotary Club of Tuscaloosa has provided the local Honor Flight experiences for 423 veterans since it began the program in May 2010.

This year, the veterans will depart from the Bama Air Terminal at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport on May 6 at 6:30 a.m. on a chartered flight to Baltimore, where they will be greeted by a general before taking a bus to the memorials.

Seats will fill up fast and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Veterans can bring a guardian or guardians with them on the flight, and they will be accompanied by medical professionals for assistance as needed.

The cost for a guardian to fly with their veteran is $600. Meals are provided. There is no cost for the veteran.

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

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