Sep 20, 2011 at 10:42 am
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KNSI) - They fought to save our nation nearly 70 years ago -- and Tuesday, a group of area World War II veterans were winging their way to Washington D.C. as a thank-you, guests on a free trip to see the World War II Memorial in the nation's capitol.
In all, 102 local veterans of World War II along with 56 family members and guardians were set to board the Sun Country charter flight at St. Cloud Regional Airport Tuesday, the start of an all-expense-paid one-day trip to see the monument to service as well as other Washington D.C. historic sites.
The Honor Flight was sponsored by Coborn's in cooperation with the Honor Flight Network and Freedom Flight of St. Cloud.
"It's a real labor of love. To get these guys together, the comraderie they have, the stories that you hear thoughout, it's pretty emotional sometimes. There are tears shed so sure on the trip," St. Cloud Freedom Flight president Luke Cesnik said.
Cesnik said Tuesday's trip is the fifth local flight coordinated by Freedom Flight -- and the first actually using St. Cloud Airport as their launching pad. Previously, veterans had to be shuttled to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to get on a flight.
"It's the biggest trip we've ever taken," Cesnik said. "It's going to be kind of nice to be able to actually have an airplane go out to our airport and use the new jetway and get these guys loaded up."
"These brave men and women put their lives on the line to protect and preserve our freedoms," Coborn's President and CEO Chris Coborn said. "Coborn's wants to give World War II veterans in our area the opportunity to visit their memorial it's too late for us to say thank you."
In addition to the World War II Memorial, Cesnik said the caravan would also stop at memorials to Iwo Jima soldiers, the Air Force, Vietnam and Korean war veterans, Abraham Lincoln and the World War II commander-in-chief Franklin D. Roosevelt. The group would also travel to Arlington National Cemetery, where they would be part of an exclusive allowed to take a bus right up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Cesnik said he constantly marvels at the stories and shared history of the veterans who make the journey...shared histories they aren't always of themselves.
"All of a sudden, here are a couple of guys who found out they were in Iwo Jima at the same time. Another couple guys from right here in the St. Cloud area found out they were in Guadalcanal at the same time and never knew it," Cesnik said.
Cesnik said Honor Flights would continue as long as they had eligible groups of World War II veterans to make the flight. Once those veterans are all served, the mission will turn to Korean War vets and eventually, to Vietnam veterans like Cesnik, who served in the Air Force during that conflict.