Honor service, sacrifice of World War II veterans on Saturday

At Blue Grass Airport in June 2014, people welcomed back area World War II veterans who had visited the war memorial in Washington, D.C.
At Blue Grass Airport in June 2014, people welcomed back area World War II veterans who had visited the war memorial in Washington, D.C.

Kentucky fans traditionally show up at Blue Grass Airport to welcome returning championship teams. On Saturday, area residents will have an opportunity to welcome a very special group of returning victors, for perhaps the last time.

For the past decade, the Honor Flight Network has flown thousands of America's heroes, mostly World War II survivors from Central Kentucky, to Washington, D.C., to reflect on their respective war memorials, at no cost to the veterans. For most of the honorees it is the first, and likely the only, opportunity they will ever receive to visit national shrines honoring their service.

The Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter, based in Louisville, has flown more than 1,700 Kentucky veterans since 2008.

The chapter plans a high-energy welcoming ceremony for Bluegrass Honor Flight guests when they return from their tour Saturday. There will be 70 veterans and 70 guardians on board. Phill Pittman, Lexington ambassador for the Bluegrass Honor Flight, suggests that those who want to welcome the flight be at the main Blue Grass Airport terminal at 8 p.m., but no later than 8:30 p.m.

Blue Grass Airport is offering free parking for those who want to welcome the Honor Flight participants. Volunteers will be posted at the airport to provide directions and information. Activities planned to keep the crowd entertained include swing dancers, media personalities and patriotic music.

World War II veterans are a rapidly vanishing breed. The war ended 70 years ago. Most of the surviving veterans are in their 90s. With each passing hour we are diminished by the loss of another 20 of these great Americans, according to Veterans Affairs statistics. If any are surviving 20 years from now, it will be but a handful. Only about 10,000 WWII veterans reside in Kentucky.

Former news anchor Tom Brokaw called these veterans members of the greatest generation that society has ever produced in his book of that title — not because they fought for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do.

Why bother to spend a Saturday night to greet some old people you probably don't know?

As humorist Will Rogers is often quoted, "We can't all be heroes, because somebody has to stand on the curb and clap as they walk by."

Come out and clap for these great Americans. It's the right thing to do.

Retired Army Brigadier Gen. Leslie E. Beavers, U.S. Army, of Frankfort, is president of Bluegrass Chapter, Military Officers Association of America. Retired Marine Col. John M. Shotwell, of Lexington, is former director of Marine Corps Public Affairs.