Bay Area World War II Veterans, Undertake One More Mission

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Joe Rosato Jr. reports on a trip to Washington, D.C. this weekend by a group of Bay Area veterans who will tour a memorial in their honor. (Published Friday, Apr 19, 2013)

    The matching pale yellow t-shirts would've been considered blasphemy in deference to the military uniforms they once proudly wore.

    Even from wheel chairs and propped up by walkers, chests seemed to thrust forward ever-so-slightly as their geriatric ranks marched through San Francisco International Airport, heading off for one more mission.

    The twenty-four aging Bay Area veterans represented many theaters of World War II. Some had seen the South Pacific - some Europe. A few fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

    Some were wounded - some watched the fighting from the decks of Navy ships. All were marked in some deep way by the catastrophic war that inducted them into the ranks of a unique fraternity.

    "We were the generation that saved the nation," said Air Force veteran Ralph "Pidge" Davies, who fought in World War II along with his four brothers. "So that's very important for anyone coming up behind us."

    This scrappy lot of 23 men and one woman, was headed to Washington D.C. to visit the National World War II Memorial.

    The trip was organized by the volunteer organization Honor Flight Northern California, which arranges the twice-yearly trips for veterans, now in their eighties and nineties. "We feel this is the least we can do to give them this trip," said Debbie Johnson, who organizes the trips along with her husband Tom.

    "They can honor themselves and their friends that were lost." Through donations, the group pays for each veteran's plane ticket, food and lodging. Each veteran was assigned a "guardian" to accompany him or her during the trip.

    The National Memorial opened to the public in 2004 honoring the 16 million people who served in U.S Armed Forces, and the 400-thousand who died.

    "The bad thing about it is, so many World War Two veterans are gone," said veteran Bob Page, who served in the Navy in the Philippines. "That's the sad thing."

    For 94-year old former Marine George Peabody, the journey marked his first time on a plane since flying home to California after suffering a gunshot in Iwo Jima in 1943. 

    It wasn't until he arrived home he learned he'd been just a short distance from an iconic moment in history. "It means personally to me that I'm going to get to see the Iwo Jima memorial, the flag-raising," Peabody said of the National Memorial. "I didn't see it, I was there. I just couldn't see cause I was a couple miles away."

    Even after decades of reciting their stories and tales of battle, the weight of the memories seemed to bubble just below the surface.

    Tears welled in the eyes of Richard Williams, who spent eleven months in a German P.O.W. camp after his plane was shot down over the Balkans.

    "We'll have stories to tell each other," Williams said. As the group of veterans made its way through Terminal Two, a crowd of travelers waiting for other planes caught sight of the group and stood to applaud. Page considered the spontaneous tribute, and the coming journey to the memorial. "We want to go back there before we're gone," Page said with a laugh.