Five Metropolis residents were among 73 World War II veterans who arrived at Williamson County Regional Airport in Marion, after spending two event-filled days in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 14.
Since April 2009, dozens of WWII vets from the southern third of Illinois have participated in the complimentary flights in a program named Central Illinois Honor Flight (CIHF). Similar programs are underway across the country.
As the ranks of the WWII vets shrink each day by l000 or more, CIHF is striving to provide a trip to the country's capital for each survivor.
On the most recent flight five veterans from Metropolis were honored to participate in the "Honor Flight,” along with a guardian for each. They were: Carl Mescher with Andrew Mescher of Brookport; Wilford E. Wachter with Troy Lewis of Metropolis; James Whalen with Norma Harrison of Herrin; John Fletcher with Steve Fehrenbacher of Metropolis; and Earl Marlman with Thomas Millendorf of Metropolis. Also on the flight was Clarence Cox, now of Lake of Egypt near Tunnel Hill, who served as vocational-agriculture teacher at Joppa High School for several years. His guardian was his son, Reggy Cox of Karnak.
All four branches of the military were represented.
Southern Illinois was well represented on the flight that also included a staff of volunteers. This group included registered nurses and several men who loaded and unloaded wheelchairs, one for each vet, along with the luggage, and served meals, passed out bottled water all day and assisted in any way they could.
When the Sun Country chartered plane landed in Washington, after departing from Marion on Sept. 13, the vets were greeted by cheers, clapping, hugs and hand shakes by the public in Reagan International Airport.
This act was repeated wherever the group stopped, with total strangers thanking the vets for providing them the freedom they now enjoy in this country.
Many of the veterans stated that they were not heroes and that those who gave their lives were the real heroes.
Each vet was given a bright orange shirt with the Honor Flight logo, a cap and a goody bag, filled with necessities, along with a disposable camera.
From the airport, the vets and entourage were loaded onto three buses.
A stop at the Marine War Memorial was followed by a scenic drive to the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was watched with deep respect, followed then by a visit to the Air Force Memorial.
Along the way, the bus drivers pointed out famous sites as they meandered through the traffic of the city.
The afternoon was filled with stops at various war memorials before the entourage was delivered to the Sheraton Hotel, where on the 16th floor an evening banquet was waiting. The ballroom, with a view of the picturesque National Cemetery, provided time to relax after a busy day. Marlman said they could also see the Pentagon from their hotel rooms.
At 8 a.m. the next morning, the three coaches were loaded for the second day of sightseeing.
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