MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Nineteen Grand Strand veterans of World War II and Korea departed for Columbia for a much-deserved Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C.
The veterans left from Brightwater Senior Living in Myrtle Beach at 12:15 p.m. and head to Columbia for an overnight stay.
They will then take the final Honor Flight to Washington D.C. from Columbia Metro on Wednesday.
Since 2008, the charter flight has taken hundreds of WWII and Korean War vets to D.C. to visit the Korean, Vietnam and Iwo Jima memorials and monuments. The WWll Veterans also visit Arlington Cemetery as special guests and observe the Changing of The Guard at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier.
Before the eventful day in Washington D.C., the 19 veterans started at the Brightwater Retirement Community on Tuesday. There, dozens of friends, family, and community members waved American Flags and cheered for the lucky vets. "
"Over the next two days, they're going to realize how important what they did was to this country," said William Sprout, a crucial volunteer in making the flight happen.
As the few left of the many World War II veterans, the local group anxiously awaited the trip they'll most likely never forget.
"We're losing 1500 vets a day from WWII. There aren't many of us left." said Jim Mills, a WWII veteran originally from Massachusetts. "I look around and see all these guys and girls that are still here and it's kind of amazing."
Before the final honor flight could take off, a bus had to get them to Columbia. That trip had a surprise detour though.
"You're neighbors, and the entire third grade class is there to say hello to you," said Veteran Coordinator Bill Kryzk as the bus pulled into Ocean Bay Elementary School.
In the elementary school parking lot, surrounded by hundreds of 3rd graders, the anxious chit chat of the veterans turned into ear to ear smiles. Many got a taste of the appreciation still to come during their short trip.
"All these kids, it's wonderful, and appreciated by us," said WWII Air Force pilot Ken Fischer after personally thanking several of the students.
Then it was back on the bus for the 19 pushing their 90s, and back on the road…
"We all know that we're lucky to be here, and we all know that we love to take this kind of a trip so we can pay tribute to those who we left behind, and those that didn't quite make it," said Fischer.
For Robert Hirsch, this sentimental journey is about his brother, who didn't make it out of WWII like he did. He said it's also about who he'll meet along the way, like his 96 year old seatmate, who he spent the nearly three hour drive talking to.
"People can't appreciate what kind of relationship you build up with other guys when your lives depend on one another," said Hirsch, a veteran of the 438th Troop Carrier Group.
After a three hour drive full of conversation and old-time music, the veterans made it to their hotel for the night.
The group will get up early Wednesday morning and make the final flight to Washington D.C.