- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) - Ed Parks of Gainesville was reminded of a World War II veteran’s words to him about the one-day trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Honor Flight Network.

“He said, ‘There are still people in this country who appreciate the veterans,’” Parks said. “There are people who still love this country, and you’ll see it on that flight.’

“And we did. It was the most impressive thing I ever saw, and it was very emotional. I mean it was tough on us. Everywhere we went, people would shake our hands and tell us how much they appreciated our time and service.”

Parks was part of a group of seven Hall County area veterans who took the all-expenses-paid flight Sept. 30. Three of them took time out recently to share their experiences.

The whirlwind trip to war memorials and military sites brought back veterans’ memories of their service but reaffirmed to them that patriotism is alive and well in the United States.

“What I remember most about it was the attention that (Honor Flight) gave us,” Korean War veteran Harry Jones said. “They saw that every need was met. They couldn’t do enough for you.”

Also taking the trip were Ed Clark, Chuck Hendrickson, Harry Williams, Harold Whitlow and Cecil Boswell.

Jones, Parks, Hendrickson, Williams and Whitlow served in the Korean War era. Clark served in Korea and World War II, and Boswell served in World War II.

Among the stops in Washington, D.C., were World War II and Korean War memorials and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. They also met with former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, a World War II veteran.

Honor Flight had wheelchairs at the ready for any veteran who needed one. At the quick pace the veterans were going, the chairs came in handy.

“At one time or another, everybody was in the wheelchair,” Parks said.

The veterans said the experience was red-carpet treatment all the way - from the time they boarded the plane in Atlanta to when they returned from Washington.

As soon as they got off the plane in Washington, “we walked in the terminal and there was a classroom of children . waving the American flag and singing songs to us,” Parks said.

And people stopped the veterans as they walked through the terminal and thanked them for their service.

“It made us feel real, real good,” Hendrickson said.

Jones said a women’s chorus also sang World War II-era songs to the group, making some of them chuckle.

“They were used to the World War II (veterans) being there,” Hendrickson said.

Top priority is given to the oldest veterans, particularly ones who served in World War II. But younger veterans who may be terminally ill may take the trip, according to Honor Flight.

With an estimated 640 World War II vets dying each day, “our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out,” the nonprofit organization’s website (honorflight.org) said.

The organization, funded by donations, was “created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices.”

Since 2005, the group has taken more than 150,000 veterans to Washington, Honor Flight board chairman Jim McLaughlin said.

For many of the vets, the trip “is life-changing,” he said. “Many thought they were forgotten . so this (trip) has had a profound impact on them.”

The trip also can be therapeutic, inspiring veterans to dust off old boxes filled with wartime photos and letters and talk to families about their experiences, McLaughlin said.

“I’ve had wives call me and say they didn’t know (their husbands) had a Purple Heart,” he said. “One daughter called and said (her father) had a Silver Star. She asked, ‘Is that a big deal?’”

Purple Hearts are military decorations awarded to those injured or killed in battle. A Silver Star is the third-highest military combat decoration, which is awarded for gallantry in action.

Overall, for area veterans, the experience was more than just memorable.

Like the World War II veteran who recommended the trip, Parks plans to spread the word.

“We have talked to our (Korean War veterans) club here and told the ones who are able to go that they should do it,” he said.

“They shouldn’t miss this (trip) - it would be a day they would never forget.”

___

Information from: The Times, http://www.gainesvilletimes.com

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