Members of the Greatest Generation were the guests of honor Wednesday during the second Honor Flight — a one-day tour of Washington, D.C. — sponsored by the state Electric Cooperatives.
On board were 85 World War II veterans — including five from Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties, who were treated to whirlwind trip of the capital’s memorials. For many, it was a trip of a lifetime.
The day started early with registration at 6 a.m., but when the veterans arrived at Reagan International Airport, they received a heroes welcome complete with a band and flag-waving supporters who shook their hands and thanked them for their service.
“It was unbelievable,” said Marvin Pruitt, a Navy veteran who lives in Campobello. “I can’t believe how wonderful that was. ... To come off of that plane and see people who absolutely made me feel like the tallest man on Earth, I wiped tears from my eyes.”
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From there, the veterans toured the World War II memorial, completed in 2004, and had a group photo taken.
Luther “Buddy” Ellis, who lives at Peachtree Centre in Gaffney, said he had long wondered what seeing the memorial first-hand would be like.
“It met all of my expectations and more,” he said. “It’s been phenomenal.”
Theodore Williamson, a veteran of the Army infantry from Moore, said the highlight of his trip was experiencing the World War II memorial.
The group, which included retired state Senator John Drummond and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., — who was a guardian for a veteran — visited the Korean War, Vietnam Wall, Lincoln, Iwo Jima and Air Force memorials before witnessing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
All veterans are assigned a guardian who is responsible for them throughout the day.
George Hurst, of Union, said he was overcome with emotion at the World War II memorial and said the trip was much more than he expected.
“I don’t know how to describe what I expected, but this is 100 percent more,” he said.
Oscar Fuller, a Navy veteran of Gaffney, said the detail and posturing of the soldiers at the Iwo Jima memorial was breathtaking.
“I’ve just learned so many things that I didn’t know and things I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” Fuller said.
Pruitt said the experience was one of the best of his life.
“I’ve flat enjoyed it all,” Pruitt said. “This is one of the better days of my life, that’s for sure. I’ve been in tears and everyone has been so gracious and nice. It couldn’t have gone any better.”