ROSWELL, Ga. – Veterans of World War II are a dwindling species, and the members of Roswell Rotary took it upon themselves to give these venerable ladies and gentlemen a good day out in Washington, D.C. as part of “Honor Air.”
Sixty-eight veterans from World War II, each with a “guardian” companion, were taken on the fifth annual Roswell Rotary trip from Roswell to Washington, D.C. Oct. 10. They set off at 5 a.m. from Roswell Area Park with a police escort to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
“As we were leaving the parking lot, the Roswell Fire Department had ladders extended and crossed with a flag unfurled between them,” said Charlotte Sears with Coldwell Banker, a sponsor of Honor Air. “It was a very emotional day.”
Once at the airport, the group boarded a chartered flight to the capital to spend a day touring the military memorials, especially the World War II monument.
“There are not enough words, what this trip meant,” said William Rowe, a WWII veteran who went on the trip.
He was the first off the plane at Reagan National Airport, he said, and was floored by the reception he and his fellow veterans received.
“There was a squad of soldiers [at the gate] and they saluted and said, ‘We just want to welcome you to Washington,’” he said. “It was an unbelievable trip.”
Two twin brothers were on the trip who both served in the war. Hilbert and Howard Margol were among the first soldiers to liberate Dachau Concentration Camp in 1945.
“There was a strange odor in the air,” said Howard. “Some thought it was from a chemical plant. We went into Dachau and saw the ovens, and we knew what was causing the odor.”
The brothers described the horrific scenes that greeted the soldiers when they searched the camp.
“Bodies were stacked like cord wood in railroad boxcars,” said Hilbert. He said some had been shot, other locked into the cars and left to die.
At the end of the long day, the group returned to Roswell.
“I’m thankful for the honors I received, but not deserved,” said veteran George Lingerfelt, “but the honor this trip presented to me was one of the greatest. The greatest heroes are represented in those 4,000 stars on that memorial.”
The World War II Memorial has 4,000 stars, each one representing 100 soldiers killed in action.
“I think about them, my buddies,” he said. “I’m still here. They made the greatest sacrifice.”
Honor Air is based on a similar national program. The Roswell Rotary ensures none of the veterans on the trip paid for their travel or meals, said Gene Beckham, the chairman of Honor Air.
“I thought this would be a one-time flight, but it just continued on,” he said.