This week, five Sun City men are on a "free" trip to Washington, D.C.
They paid for it more than 65 years ago.
Grant Bergemann, Bernie Fox, Jerry Ahern, Larry Beckett and Jack Buchanan are all veterans of World War II.
Now in their 80s and 90s, the longtime Sun City residents flew Southwest Airlines from Tucson to Washington on Tuesday.
They'll visit the World War II Memorial dedicated in 2005. And they'll do much more. There is a meeting with former Sen. Bob Dole, himself a decorated and wounded WWII veteran. There are color guards, banners and music, a special dinner, a visit Arlington National Cemetery to witness a changing of the guard.
All expenses for the three-day, two-night trip are paid for through donations to Honor Flight, the non-profit organization that flies veterans to Washington to see their memorial.
"It's all gratis to them," said Barb Brownlie, Honor Flight Arizona board liaison and Tucson area volunteer. "This was such an awesome opportunity to work with our older population. I knew they would truly be blessed by this opportunity."
Ahern has never been to Washington. Friends who have taken the Honor flight trip said they were "treated like royalty. I heard so much about it."
Bergemann said friends who have taken the Honor Flight trip have described it as "one of the most fond experiences they've had in their life. It's the way they're treated. They roll out the carpet for them.
"This is something special, to be recognized," Bergemann said.
Andrew G. "Grant" Bergemann was stationed in the Pacific for 3-1/2 years, working as an air inspector with a depot repair squadron. "We fixed those old shot-up airplanes," he remembers. "We had to keep the aircraft parts up to date. We'd inspect to be sure they were properly cared for."
Bernard "Bernie" Fox started his service with the 37th Infantry, then was transferred to the Signal Corps, operating radar, plotting courses for planes, and checking for the enemy. He, too, was in the Pacific Theater, serving in the war for two years as part of his military career.
Larry Beckett was a pilot, based in England. He flew 41 missions over Germany, until the war's end, and stayed in the military for 33 years, both on active duty and in the reserves.
Jerry Ahern spent most of his two-year war service as a medic on an Army troop ship, traveling back and forth between the East Coast of the United States and Europe. "We took care of people in sick bay," he said. Medics treated troops who were seasick, or who tumbled from high bunk beds onto steel decks.
Jack Buchanan enlisted after Pearl Harbor, and was trained stateside as a pilot. He was scheduled to go to Japan as part of a replacement training unit when the atomic bombs were dropped in August 1945, bringing the war to a close. Buchanan later flew in Korea.
When they came home, "World War II veterans were not observed as well as others," Fox said.
"We were welcomed home," Bergemann said. "Your family welcomes you back." Primarily, though, "we were back into society, and forgot about World War II. I've got to get a job." He returned to a school teaching position.
Years later, Honor Flight honors their commitments as young men.
Honor Flight was started by a retired Air Force pilot and physician's assistant from Ohio who asked veterans if they'd like to visit the WWII memorial. The response was overwhelming.
Honor Flight has a waiting list of 51 Southern Arizona WWII veterans awaiting a trip to Washington, and the list grows as more veterans are identified. "A lot have never heard of this," Ahern said.
"There's so many to fly," Brownlie said. "We just don't have the capital."
In this country, an estimated 1,200 WWII veterans die every day. Most of them have never seen the memorial. Brownlie wants to spread the word about Honor Flight, and broaden the awareness.
"I've talked more about my experiences in World War II today than since I got out," said Bergemann, who is a youthful 92 years of age. "It's nice to share experiences with people involved in the same type of activity."
Honor Flight Arizona
Barb Brownlie, board liaison and
Prescott, Ariz., 86304
All donations are tax-deductible.