Carl Kasey, Morris Heitschmidt and Allan Madden of McPherson stood at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., with reflective hearts.
Encircling them were grandiose pillars, dated pictures and golden stars representing the hundreds of thousands of lost American lives. At their side were some of the few left in Kansas who remember the war firsthand.
Their visit to the memorial in late September was made possible by Kansas Honor Flights, part of the Honor Flight Network, which organizes trips for aging veterans. More than 30 World War II veterans from McPherson County have made the journey during the past four years.
"At this point in my life, I didn't really expect to do anything like that, Madden, 86, said. "It was kind of fun. That was a good part of this trip, to know you're a bunch of guys that had been through a whole lot of what you have, and most of them more."
Heitschmidt, 88, had a shake in his voice when he recalled seeing the memorial.
"You have something to be proud of," he said. "It's very emotional."
Kasey, 89, was appreciative of the time and effort it took to make it.
"It was an honor to be with other World Ware II veterans and hear their story," he said. "They don't tell much when they come back, so a lot of their experiences aren't known. (The memorial) does bring out a little of that."
Although Kasey and Heitschmidt had seen the memorial before, this time their journey was ushered by much more fanfare. Each time the group reached a new destination, whether that was an airport or a memorial, they were greeted with applause, handshakes and appreciation for their service — former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and current U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts among the many.
"I was awed at the attention and respect people showed for us as veterans of World War II," Madden said. "That was one of the outstanding features of the trip."
One of the highlights for Kasey was being one of two selected to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
"It was a tremendous honor," he said. "How many people in McPherson get to do that? It was a high privilege."
A highlight for Heitschmidt was mail call, where he and others received letters from home, much like they would have while serving in the 1940s. He received letters from his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"It was a surprise and a real treat," he said.
While there, the group toured with others from Kansas and also visited the Korean, Vietnam and Iwo Jima Memorials and Arlington National Cemetery. Each veteran was easily identifiable by blue hats and red T-shirts that read, "If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a World War II veteran before it's too late."
Page 2 of 2 - Since they have returned home, the McPherson residents have had time to reflect on their experiences.
"I enjoyed it very much," Kasey said. "I relive (the trip) every day."
The next Kansas flights are scheduled for mid-October. Priority always is given to veterans of all wars who are terminally ill, especially those from World War II.
Veterans fly free through donations, and it is recommended each veteran travel with a younger guardian, which costs $650. For more information on the flights or to apply, visit kansashonorflight.org or call 620-546-2400.