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Hundreds of flag-waving family, friends and patriotic Americans packed the terminal at Louisville International Airport Saturday night to welcome home veterans returning from a trip to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Twenty-nine veterans, ranging from ages 85 to 92, went on the one-day trip that was sponsored by Inter-County Energy, Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Honor Flight Network. All were veterans of World War II, except two who served during the Korean War.
“The memorial is breathtaking and represents freedom for America and the world,” said Sheree Gilliam, VP Customer Services. “It was an honor for us to sponsor these heroes.”
Dozens of uniformed cadets from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD greeted the Kentucky vets upon their arrival at Baltimore International Airport. Retired U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth talked to the vets and posed for photos with them upon their arrival at the memorial.
“You cannot describe how this touches you,” said Veteran Jay Warden, 86, of Winchester. “There is no way you can prepare yourself for this.”
Tears streamed down the face of Veteran Norman Young, 88, from Danville, as he read letters of gratitude from family, as well as from employees of Inter-County Energy and other co-ops during the return flight. Young, who was sponsored by Inter-County Energy, received the Bronze Star for acts of bravery in Germany. “This was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Young said.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this great,” said John Shafer, 91, of Milton, who was sponsored by Shelby Energy. “The only other time I felt this good was when I came back from the war.”
Inter-County Energy and Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives paid to fly the 29 veterans from Louisville to Washington, D.C. Six veterans who planned to go originally were not able to attend. Volunteers representing Inter-County Energy and other co-ops accompanied the vets as guardians to ease their travel and assisted them in any way possible. In addition to visiting the World War II Memorial, the group also stopped at the Korean War and Iwo Jima memorials. They were transported around the city on a chartered bus.
Mary Beth Nance, co-director of the Honor Flight and director of Member Services at Fleming-Mason Energy, said being on the trip was indescribable. “Being greeted by huge crowds in Baltimore and on the return to Louisville made it a day none of us will ever forget,” she said.
As Veteran Forrest Sparrow was wheeled in front of the marker honoring the Battle of the Bulge, Dominique Potier, a young man from Belgium, ran over to shake his hand. Sparrow suffered wounds that kept him in the hospital in Liege, Belgium for one month. Liege is where the young man lived.
“This young man got down on one knee, took Mr. Sparrow’s hand and said ‘You saved my country.’” said Roberta Skinner, co-chair of the Honor Flight for Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives. “This was the best day of my life.”
The World War II Memorial pays tribute to the 16 million who served in the United States Armed Forces during the war, the 400,000-plus who died and all who supported the war effort on the home front. The memorial is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west.
The Honor Flight sponsored by Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives is part of a larger national network that has 106 hubs, or chapters, in 38 states. The inaugural Honor Flight took place in May 2005, when six small planes flew out of Springfield, Ohio, taking 12 veterans. In May 2008, Southwest Airlines stepped up by donating thousands of tickets, and was named the network’s official commercial carrier. The flight sponsored by Inter-County Energy and Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives used Southwest as its carrier.
Already, another Honor Flight sponsored by Inter-County Energy and Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives is being planned for next year.