Published: September 6, 2013
Twenty-three Southern Colorado World War II veterans who will embark on a trip to the nation's capitol next week were honored Friday at a lunch at the Hilton's DoubleTree hotel.
Nearly 200 showed up for the event, where trip participants received their itineraries and gifts such as homemade quilts.
The veterans - from Colorado Springs, La Junta, Trinidad, Durango and other Southern Colorado cities and towns - will depart for Washington, D.C., on Friday thanks to Honor Flight of Southern Colorado, a local chapter of a national nonprofit that sends World War II veterans to the capitol free of charge.
The three-day trip will include a departure rally, an airport greeting by congressional representatives and visits to each memorial on the National Mall.
It costs nearly $1,000 to send a veteran on the trip, said Terri Ingraldi, a member of Honor Flight for Southern Colorado's executive board.
This month's flight will wipe out the chapter's savings. The group must soon resume fundraising so it can send another flight of veterans in May, she said.
"We'd like to get to the point where we're not broke after every flight," said Ingraldi, who would like groups volunteer to raise enough money to cover a veteran's entire trip.
"I don't need volunteers. I need money."
Friday's lunch included a roll call of the veterans who will make the trip, the lighting of a remembrance candle and the reading of a poem written by an Honor Flight participant.
The poem brought tears to the eyes of Navy veteran Howard Pease.
Honor Flight of Southern Colorado sent Pease to Washington, D.C., last year with fellow World War II veterans.
His favorite part of it: being thanked by young people who recognized the elderly tourists as members of the "greatest generation."
"These girls came up to us and gave us a hug and a kiss," said Pease, 87, who served on a ship in the North Atlantic during the war. "Another group of kids got on our bus and shook our hands."
Navy veteran Don Wagler said Friday that he's in awe of those like Pease who served during the war.
Wagler, a former Navy corpsman, joined the service toward the end of the war and never deployed.
On Sept. 13, he'll board a plane for D.C. with veterans who did - and he couldn't be more excited.
"It's great that I'll be traveling with a bunch of people who really won the war, who flew bombers over Germany when they were 18 years old," he said.
As attendees dined and dignitaries gave speeches, Tech Sgt. Thomas Bryson stood watch near the door.
Bryson, an airman assigned to Peterson Air Force Base's 21st Force Support Squadron, volunteered to spend his lunch hour at the event.
"I thought it would be a neat opportunity to be show some respect to these guys who laid the foundation for us today," said Bryson, who escorted veterans to their seats and made sure they were comfortable.
"People will tell me 'thank you for your service' in Wal-Mart, and I haven't even given up what these guys have given up - not even close."