Sons and Daughters Create Memories on "Honor Flight"

By Mark Geary, Reporter

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By Mark Geary

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eastern Iowa World War II veterans traveled free of charge this week to our nation's capital to see the memorial constructed in their honor.

On that trip, each veteran had a guardian to help them throughout the long day. For some veterans, that guardian was their son or daughter.

Words, symbols and statues scattered throughout Washington, D.C. share stories of America's past. Monuments will remain there forever, but the men and women they honor fade away every day.

"Personally, I don't feel like a hero. I got out and graduated high school in '42 and went right into the service. Everybody else was,” veteran Charles Atkinson said.

Veteran James Gerlich said, "We were all, by our standards, kids, shipped off to do our duty and go to battle."

As these 85-year-old "kids" explored the Capital with their sons and daughters, the trip became less about monuments and more about memories.

"You don't remember, excuse the expression, the blood and the guts. You remember the humorous side of it...when you liberated a town and it had a winery in it and you got in the wine vats,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson's daughter, Kathleen Garrett, stood by her dad with pride throughout the day.

"Your dad is always someone very special. When you see some of the things a lot of the World War II vets went through and what they experienced, it just makes you appreciate them a little more,” Garrett said.

"I don't think she realized the magnitude of the whole thing,” Atkinson said.

Just a few days ago, 85-year-old Gerlich was in the hospital and almost had to cancel the trip. Spending the day in Washington with his son, William Gerlich, lifted his spirits.

"It's certainly a pleasure to have that opportunity. I've enjoyed it and I was looking forward to that part of it as much as the tour itself,” he said.

His son, William, said, "To watch the expressions on his face...watch the smiles...the big grin...it's very special. It means a lot."

Family members know they only have a limited time left with their veterans. That's why spending time here at Arlington National Cemetery was especially emotional.

"We get a little frustrated sometimes with them and lose patience with them. But, when you step back and look at all this, it really means a lot,” William Gerlich said.

Garrett said, "You get to feel the atmosphere, watch everybody's feelings and expressions. It just kind of all comes together."

While Garrett watched the "changing of the guard" ceremony, she thought about her son and grandson who followed in her father's footsteps and joined the military.

"It's kind of an experience I can't explain,” she said.

By the end of the day, families had grown closer, monuments had new meaning and veterans had new stories to tell.

E-mail Mark Geary at Mark.Geary@kcrg.com or follow him on Twitter.
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