- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

A plane carrying about 120 World War II veterans is scheduled to land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport this morning, bringing a group of heroes from the past to visit a memorial honoring their legacy.

For most of the veterans, today will be the first time they have toured the 56-column, three-year-old World War II Memorial on the Mall.

And with World War II veterans — who once numbered 16 million — dying at a rate of at least 1,200 each day, organizers say the trip may be the best chance for many to visit the memorial.

“There was a lot of urgency,” said Jeff Miller, the operator of a laundry in Hendersonville, N.C., who organized and obtained the funding for the trip. “Everything good I have in my life is because of them.”

The trip was made possible through Mr. Miller’s HonorAir program — a North Carolina-based partner with the national nonprofit Honor Flight Network, which arranges flights for veterans to visit the D.C. memorial.

The Honor Flight program was conceived by a retired Air Force captain and physician’s assistant. The first Honor Flights took off in May 2005 when six small planes carrying 12 World War II veterans from Springfield, Ohio, landed in Manassas.

Vans took the veterans and their volunteer pilots to the District to see the memorial.

The Hendersonville community has readily participated in funding trips by Mr. Miller’s organization, raising the money through individual and business donations and funds from civic associations like the American Legion and the Boys and Girls Club.

“We’re just in a little county up in western North Carolina and we’ve raised in excess of $300,000 since we’ve started it” last year, Mr. Miller said. “It’s done real well.”

Today’s Honor Flight is the sixth in two years and the final one from Hendersonville, because Mr. Miller said the area is simply “out of veterans.”

The youngest veterans are in their 70s, and many are handicapped. About 60 guardians travel on the flights to assist them, Mr. Miller said.

The entire Honor Flight Network hopes to provide memorial trips for about 5,000 veterans this year.

Today, police will escort the North Carolina entourage from the airport to the World War II Memorial, where the veterans can reminisce and pay their respects.

They will be welcomed at the site by former Sen. Bob Dole, a decorated World War II veteran who led the fundraising campaign for the monument.

The entourage will be joined along the tour by another group of veterans from Lafayette, La., and will go to the Lincoln, Korean and Vietnam memorials on the Mall, before ending the tour at Arlington National Cemetery.

They will return to National Airport for a flight home at about 6 p.m.

Gary Emerling contributed to this report.

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