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Team Scott salutes local veterans on Honor Flight

By Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade | | May 23, 2012

After waking up to catch an early flight, 26 World War II veterans stepped off a bus and approached the long, awaited sight. Some smiled and for many tears began to fall down their wrinkled, aged faces as they saw the tall, pale granite walls of the WWII memorial for the first time.

On May 21, veterans were flown to Washington D.C. for first time with the help of a local non-profit called Greater St. Louis Honor Flight.

Honor flight is a program that transports World War II veterans once a month to see the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. in a one-day, free trip. Greater St. Louis Honor Flight was created by two St. Louis women passionate about ensuring local veterans got a chance to see the nation's memorials. Since they opened in 2009, the GSLHF has flown 22 flights with more than 600 veterans, and the waiting list is long. They operate on donations only.  

"The urgency of our mission increases because of their medical conditions and ages," said Ruth Anne Carl, Greater St. Louis Honor Flight volunteer. "Their detailed list of service they provided to our country makes me glad we provide this service to our veterans."

According to Rolando Lopez, Greater St. Louis Honor Flight volunteer, "The nation is losing more than 750 WWII veterans a day so time is of the essence. This trip Dave Hinrichs, a terminally ill veteran, was moved up the GSTHL waiting list for a last chance to see memorials."

During their trip veterans were also paired with a volunteer guardian who helped the individual veteran.

"I thought the trip was magnificent and I got to share it with my father which was even better," said Steve Trauth, who accompanied his father, Rich and 88-year-old Army Veteran.

The trip began with a tour of the WWII memorial first, then Korean war, Lincoln and Vietnam memorial and ended with a viewing of "The Changing of the Guard" at Arlington National Cemetery, Iwo Jima the new U.S. Air Force memorial.

Joseph Cammarata, one of the most decorated members on the trip said, "I really like the memorials, it was a long day but it was worth it."

Cammarata is an 87-year-old U.S. Navy veteran. He has been awarded five battle bronze stars and participated in the occupation of Japan. He said he also contributed funds to the WWII Memorial and he finally got to view it for the first time on this trip.

Another famous veteran on the trip was Willie "Wildcat" Haynes, 87-year-old,  known for his boxing talent. He was a member of the Army Boxing team and in camp with Joe Louis.

After leaving D.C. members received mail written by their loved ones and local St. Louis elementary students, in the BWI airport and even though most of the airport was closed when the plane landed at 11 p.m. in St. Louis, the veterans were surprised to see the active duty military members from Scott Air Force base lining the airport terminal to greet them with a salute and gift before they headed home.

Airman 1st Class Brittany Davenport 618th Air and Space Operations Center said, "I think the event was very rewarding, to see the look on their faces when they came out and saw us, priceless."

There were more than 100 family members, volunteers and military members in the airport prior to leaving to surprise the veterans.

"There are always a lot of people here to greet us when we arrive home," said Robert Graves, GSLHF volunteer, it's a great way to say thank you to our veterans."

Active duty members presented the veterans with a photograph from the trip and a certificate of appreciation prior to departure as their family members waved small American flags, held posters and clapped.

Tech. Sgt. William Sage from the Air Mobility Wing came out to the airport to express his gratitude for the challenges the veterans faced and the courage it took to face it she said, "It was an honor to pay tribute to the men and women who went before us. As they are deservedly called, 'the greatest generation,' it was a humbling experience to show our love and respect for them in this way."

"Their war is over, our appreciation is not," That is the motto of the national Honor Flight program. For more information on the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight program visit http://gslhonorflight.org/.