Local World War II veterans take part in Honor Flight

Published 10:14 pm Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bill Sanders stood back and watched. He couldn’t help but be filled with emotion.

Members of “The Greatest Generation,” now aged veterans, stood in the shadows of the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

Some were in wheelchairs; others were stooped and still others leaned on canes.

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But even at that, they exemplified the pride and patriotism that earned them the title of “The Greatest Generation.”

“It’s an honor to be among those considered ‘The Greatest Generation,’ and it’s also humbling,” W.O. Sanders said.

“There was, among this generation, a spirit of patriotism that I’m not sure we’ll ever see again. It was extremely touching to be there with other veterans who had all shared a common time. But, we weren’t the real heroes of the war. There were others who did so much more. The real heroes were those who made the supreme sacrifice. And you wonder why them and not us.”

Bill Sanders accompanied his dad, W.O. Sanders of Goshen, on the May 2, Honor Flight sponsored by the Covington County Chamber of Commerce. Pike Countians Max Shiver, Grady Motes and Charles Saunders also made the “trip of a life time.”

“It was a trip of a lifetime for me,” Motes said. “It was my first trip to Washington to see the World War II Memorial and there just aren’t any words to describe my feelings. The memorial was so inspiring. It made me want to do more for my country knowing that our countrymen think that much of us … to do something as wonderful as that.”

In 1993, the United State Congress authorized the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish a World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

The memorial, designed by Friedrich St. Florian, was funded mostly by private donations and was begun in September 2001 and dedicated on May 29, 2004.

Although it took nearly 60 years for a monument to be erected honoring the service of “The Greatest Generation,” Motes said that did not diminish its significance to the WWII veterans.

“It’s better late than never,” he said.

“There are many, many World War II veterans who didn’t get to see the memorial or even know about it and there aren’t many of us left. But the World War II Memorial will be here for others to see and to know the sacrifices that were made.”

The sacrifices that were made are almost impossible to comprehend, said Motes, who served from 1944 to 1946 in the Merchant Marines, who lost more men, per capita, than any branch of service.

“On the Freedom’s Wall, there are 4,000 gold stars and each star represents 100 Americans that gave their lives in World War II,” Motes said.

“That’s 400,000 lives that were lost. It’s hard to imagine that.” Max Shiver can begin to imagine.

The Gold Stars on the Freedom’s Wall were a reminder for Shiver of the horrors of war.

Shiver’s mother signed for him to join the Navy when he was 17 years old.

On his 18th birthday, he landed at Pearl Harbor.

Shiver served in the South Pacific and was a coxman who drove boats filled with men and tanks that “hit the beach.”

“When you’ve seen what I’ve seen – men buried at sea – everywhere – you just can’t shake it,” he said.

“All those Gold Stars and all those markers in every direction at Arlington National Cemetery. You just can’t shake it.”

Many memories were stirred for the Pike County WWII veterans who made the Honor Flight to Washington.

And, even though it was a hard one-day trip, not one of them regretted having made it.

The four veterans left Troy at 2:30 a.m. on May 2, traveled to Opp and Andalusia to join other veterans and then to Pensacola where they boarded a commercial flight to Atlanta and then on to Reagan Washington National Airport.

“Everything was perfectly planned,” Shiver said.

“A bus picked us up and took us everywhere we needed to go. I enjoyed the tours and the comradeship. It was a long day of memory.”

Motes agreed that it was a long day but, “It was worth every minute of it.”

“It was unbelievable what they did for us.”

What “they” did for the World War II veterans on the Honor Flight that originated in Covington County was more than any of the participating veterans could have imagined.

Not only did they have the opportunity to view the memorial erected in their honor – the memorial that celebrates a generation of Americans who emerged from the Great Depression to fight and win the most devastating war in world history – they were also able to experience the heartfelt appreciation of fellow Americans.

“We went through three airports and there, and everywhere we went, people applauded and cheered and shouted these very special veterans,” Bill Sanders said.

“People would come up to them and hug them. There was such an outpouring of love for our World War II veterans from people of all ages.

It was a heartwarming experience for all of them.”

W.O. Sanders, served in the Army in France, Germany and Austria and was part of the occupation forces in the Philippines. Asked if he would do it all again, he said, “In a minute. I would not hesitate. It would be an honor.”

Sanders was speaking for “The Greatest Generation,” and on this Memorial Day, the words of President Harry Truman ring clear for the veterans of all America’s wars – those past, those present and those yet to come: “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”