•Regional Hero Flight includes several area veterans
December 7, 1941, is often referred to as America’s longest day. The attack that day on Pearl Harbor began our involvement in World War II.
During World War II, 85 percent of our nation’s families had someone serving in active duty. Nearly 60 years after the end of that war, a memorial to those who served was finally erected in Washington, D.C. Last week, 20 WW II veterans from central Nebraska had the privilege of making the trip to Washington to visit that memorial.
The group included three veterans from Custer County, one from Blaine County, and one from Sherman County. Among the central Nebraska group was a Pearl Harbor survivor and a WAVE.
“September 11, 2001, is our generation’s ‘longest day’,” said Col. Dan Caine, addressing the veterans group at a banquet Friday night. “That same feeling I get talking about 9-11 is the same feeling you guys get talking about Dec. 7, 1941.”
“General Eisenhower spoke three words on D-Day when he gave the order to invade Normandy. They were, ‘OK, let’s go.’,” Caine continued. “It is reminiscent of Flight 93 when Todd Beemer spoke those now famous words, ‘Let’s roll.’
Caine was mission commander of the Capital Guardians, who flew back and forth over D.C. for 40 days following 9-11. An F-16 fighter pilot, he was also the first plane in the air in defense of our nation’s capital after the second plane hit the World Trade Center tower.
“When I landed and walked back in the building, everything was different. Not unlike when the sun set in Hawaii Dec. 7 - everything was different,” said Caine.
“When I think about 9-11, I don’t think about us - I think about the firefighters and police officers who instead of running away from burning buildings, ran right at them. I truly believe that what motivated all those men and women, and everyone who has been deployed since, is you - and what you did,” said Caine, pointing to the WW II vets in the room.
“You overcame your fears to serve when failure was not an option. You guys never let me forget that anything is possible.
“Our heroes of 9-11 learned what strength, courage and conviction are from you. All of us who carry on your legacy today will never forget the sacrifice you made.”
Caine’s speech brought out a great deal of emotion around the room, from both the veterans themselves and those family members accompanying them.
During conversations with one another, the veterans would often share details of their service they had not mentioned before. One such instance involved Ansley veteran Gene Chartraw, who had neglected to mention in his interview for his story last week that he had served in Patton’s 3rd Army.
Gene says seeing the inscriptions and pictures on the memorial made him very emotional.
“If they were old guys like me, that would be one thing. But these guys were like 20-years-old,” he says softly. “It brought back lots of memories. Those memories never go away.”
Glen Buchta, of Broken Bow, also says the WW II Memorial was his favorite part of the trip. He particularly liked the fact that each state was represented. Glen says he was also very moved by the reception the vets received at the airport in D.C.
For Les McCormick, of Brewster, the Iwo Jima Memorial also had special meaning.
“I had a good friend who was there when the flag was raised,” Les says. “And the World War II Memorial is something I always wanted to see.”
Emotions rose to the surface for Arleigh Sintek, of Ansley, as well - especially at the WW II Memorial where he was greeted and thanked, as were all the veterans, by a number of visitors.
“If it hadn’t been for all these really nice people, I never would have made this trip,” says Arleigh, tears in his eyes.
Chartraw was also moved by the greetings he received. “That was more recognition than I ever had as a soldier,” he said. Like the others, he expressed his deepest gratitude for those who made this trip possible.
I say those thank-you’s were long overdue.