WWII Veterans get the experience of a lifetime

“This memorial, it’s breath taking, it really is,” said Ray Weber, a WWII Veteran. “I was one of the fortunate ones to come back.”

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) — This week, the largest group of veterans ever took their honor flight to the Nations Capital.

Nineteen World War II veterans took the trip of a lifetime flying to Washington D.C. on the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight on Tuesday, with dozens of other veterans to see the war memorials made for them.

More than 400,000 American soldiers died in World War II. These veterans say they’re thankful and blessed have made it home, and now, to see the memorial honoring their dedication and bravery.

“This memorial, it’s breath taking, it really is,” said Ray Weber, a WWII Veteran. “I was one of the fortunate ones to come back.”

Weber, 97, served as a tech sergeant in Germany. His unit built bridges over the rivers there to get the tanks across.

He says being at the memorial brought back memories of building the bridge across the Rhine River. Weber says his unit built the bridge in 14 hours.

“It’s a big river, but we got the tanks across,” Weber said.

Tuesday, Weber, along with the other veterans, got the thanks they deserve.

“I made a lot of friends [during the war], but there’s none of them left anymore, we're getting old,” Thomas Coffman, a WWII Coast Guard veteran said.

The 96-year-old says the best part of the memorial was the gratitude by other visitors.

“It’s different, I can’t really explain it, it is nice its nice to see these people and shake hands and talk to them, that’s what I enjoy,” Coffman said.

A folded flag was laid at the bottom of the Michigan pillar.

“We’re here to honor the fallen soldiers that could not be here with us today, we would like to take a moment to reflect on their lives, their sacrifice, and their service to this county,” one of the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight announced as they laid an American Flag on a wheelchair beneath the Michigan monument before a moment of silence.

As the veterans arrived back in Michigan, dozens greeted them for a welcome home some may never have received.

“Everything was great, I'm overwhelmed, this is a wonderful reception,” Bob Carsten a WWII Airforce veteran. He was an arial gunner that pulled 52 missions.

“We had a wonderful time,” Carsten said. “We got back [from the war], those who didn’t get back, they deserve this more than we do, but this is very very nice.”

“It’s rewarding to know someone really thought something of what we did,” said Weber. “Everyone should do their share, freedom isn’t free."

Out of the 16-million Americans who served in WWII, right now only half a million of those soldiers are still alive. That’s why with every story they share, and every memory, it’s a little piece of preserved history.

According to the National World War II Museum, there are nearly 19,000 WWII veterans still alive in Michigan.

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