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Honor Flight Heads for DC With Over 100 WWII Vets

Evening Edition

Above: More than a hundred WWII veterans flew from San Diego to Washington D.C. today. KPBS Reporter Tom Fudge tells us about the "honor flight," serving a group of war veterans whose numbers are getting smaller every day. (Video by Katie Euphrat)

Aired 5/11/12 on KPBS News.

The non-profit group Honor Flight left San Diego today with a plane full of veterans to honor their service in World War II.

— More than a 100 war veterans today were lining up at Gate 21 at San Diego's Lindbergh Field. Many sat in wheelchairs. All are in their late 80s or 90s. And when these veterans reflect on their war experiences, they are looking back 67 years. Navy veteran Tom Casenza served in the Pacific.

“I was there. I was in Guam. I was in Saipan and Okinawa,” said 89-year-old Casenza. “I was there… every one of them.”

John Paoletti was in the 99th Infantry Division which pushed into Musberg, Germany, where they liberated a large prisoner-of-war camp. Rose Plastik served in France for the Women’s Army Corps or WAC.

They were at the airport to catch a flight to Washington, D.C., courtesy of the non-profit group Honor Flight. Dave Smith is chairman of Honor Flight San Diego. He said groups have sprung up around the county to help veterans get to Washington to visit the World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004.

“I get just so much enjoyment out of seeing these guys, 67 years after the war ended, finally get a pat on the back and a thank you,” said Smith.

Honor Flight raises money so WWII veterans can get a free flight to Washington. Many of them travel with guardians, who help them get around. Some of them are reluctant to reveal their age.

“Oh God. You never ask a woman that!” said Plastik, after I put the question to her.

Dave Smith said many of these war vets have suffered post-traumatic stress, and Honor Flight can be a way to work the demons out.

Casenza spoke of having to bury the war dead.

“It took me 30 years to forget about that. But now I can talk about it,” he said.

On Sunday, the veterans return to San Diego greeted with a grand welcome of a water cannon salute on the airport runway, and a Navy and Marine Corps Color Guard.

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