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Honor worthy

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Local veterans take part in the Bluegrass Honor Flight to see the World War II memorial

By Stephen Lega

"There will never be another war like World War II," said Clyde Cecil, a U.S. Army veteran of that conflict.

"That's what they said about World War I," replied Ben Browning, a U.S. Navy veteran.

"No, they said that was the war to end all wars," Cecil said.

"It was supposed to," Browning said.   "But it didn't happen that way," Cecil said.

Browning, 82, and Cecil, 88, were two of the five World War II veterans from Marion County who flew to Washington D.C. as part of the most recent Bluegrass Honor Flight. The flights are arranged to allow veterans to see the National World War II memorial in person.

The local vets were unanimously impressed with what they saw.

"I couldn't believe my eyes," said Jim Bob Moore, 86, a U.S. Army vet.

"It was beautiful, that's what I say," said Bela "Shorty" Smith, 86, who served in the U.S. Navy.

Joe Buster, 87, another Navy vet, was the fifth member of the local quartet.

The National World War II Memorial opened April 29, 2004.

"It's a beautiful site," Cecil said. "You see the Lincoln Memorial at one end and the Washington Monument on the other."

Browning and Buster considered walking to the Washington Monument, but they decided against it, in part because of the temperatures in the 90s on the day of their visit.

"I don't think you could put it [the World War II Memorial] in a better place," Browning said.

The World War II Memorial includes several details with a meaning unto themselves. A series of pillars with the names of every state, U.S. colony and territory are arranged in the order in which they joined the union. The pillars are arranged around a circular pool with a series of fountains inside it.

Pavilions were built to recognize the Atlantic and Pacific theaters

A series of quotations - by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and others - are carved into the memorial.

But the field of stars leaves an impact on many of the veterans who visit the site. Each star represents 100 people killed in action during the war. The 4,000 stars are meant to represent the more than 400,000 people who died in the fighting.

"It's kind of sad, all the people that got killed," Cecil said.

Just as sobering as it was for them to think about those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, the local veterans were also excited about the people they met on their trip.

Sen. Bob Dole, a World War II veteran himself and the national chairman for the fund-raising campaign for the memorial, greeted the group of 80 veterans from Kentucky who made the trip.

"He walked in. I had my back to him," Moore said. "I just turned around and said, 'Well, Sen. Bob Dole.'"

Dole took time to speak with several of the veterans individually, signing autographs and posing for pictures with them.

"In his brown suit, he looked nice," Browning said. "He's a nice looking man, Sen. Dole."

The crowd at the memorial had an international flavor, however.

"There were people there from everywhere," Moore said.

"Gosh, yes, people from all over the world," Smith said. "India, Japan, China ... any number of countries."

Unfortunately, the Kentucky vets had to skip a stop at the Korean Memorial, but they did see the side of the Pentagon that was struck by a plane Sept. 11, 2001.

And they did get to stop at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, which is a 78-foot-high sculpture depicting the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. That flag-raising marked a pivotal turning point during the war, when the Marines recaptured the island from the Japanese in February of 1945.

The veterans flew back to Louisville the same day, arriving after 10:30 in the evening. Nevertheless, they were surprised to be greeted by hundreds of people - active-duty military, including an honor guard, civilians and veterans.

"That was a surprise to me," Buster said. "Was there about 200 people there?"

"Oh, it was three [hundred], probably," Moore said.

Browning said people were lined up to welcome them home from the security check point all the way to the luggage claim area.

"I asked one of 'em, 'Do y'all think the war just ended?'" Cecil said.

Buster said they received a heroes' welcome.

"I got hugged twice by ladies," he said with a laugh.

Buster, who said he'll be 87 next month, said one of the women who hugged him was at least 50 years his junior.

"I'd have liked to spend more time there in the terminal," Buster said.

"Joe [Buster] was having a good time," Browning said.

The memorial and the greeting meant a lot to the veterans. Browning said some vets weren't recognized after they came home.

Moore said he recalled hitchhiking back to his home in Jessietown.

"When I got home, my family wasn't even there," he said. "I laid across the bed and rested. They came in, and they was surprised."

The Marion County veterans who made the Honor Flight trip were grateful for the entire experience. Frank Bland picked each of them up that morning and drove them to the airport, and he was in Louisville that evening to take each one home.

None of the veterans had to pay a cent to make the trip, and that included the three meals they ate throughout the day.

"They fed us good," Moore said.   "Overfed us, I believe," Browning added.

They were also instructed not to tip anyone throughout the day.

"They said, 'I don't want to see you put your hands in your pocket,'" Cecil said.

Two days after their trip, however, Cecil reflected on something he felt was missing from the monument.

"When I think about it, it's beautiful and it's a great tribute to the soldiers," he said. "I think the civilians ought to have something. We won the battle, but they won the victory. We wouldn't have been able to have won the battle if they hadn't been supportive, the civilian people."

Cecil served in Europe and Africa during the war, including time under the command of Gen. George Patton.

Browning said that you can't take anything away from the people who served for long periods of time overseas.

"I don't think they went through misery like you went through," Browning said to Cecil.

"They done without a lot of stuff, though," Cecil said. "I would like to see them get some recognition."

  Want to find out more?   Five Marion County veterans took part in the Aug. 20 Bluegrass Honor Flight to the National World War II Memorial in Washington DC. They encouraged more World War II veterans to consider signing up as well.

There is no cost for the veterans who go on the Honor Flights, which are funded through donations.

For more information about Bluegrass Honor Flight, visit the website honorflightbluegrass.org, call (502) 550-3093 or email honorflight@insightbb.com.

  The Marion County vets who made the trip.   - Bela W. "Shorty" Smith, 86, US Navy, 1941-47, 1949-52, shipfitter third class. 

- Jim Bob Moore, 83, US Army, 1944-47, E-5 or "Buck Sergeant"

- Joe Buster, 87, US Navy, 1940-46, gunner's mate first class

- Douglas Clyde Cecil, 88, US Army, 1942-1945, staff sergeant

- Joseph Ben Browning, 82, US Navy, 1946-1948, seaman first class