The World War Two Memorial in Washington D.C. is dedicated to a generation of Americans who emerged from the Great Depression to fight and win the most devastating war in world history.
Thanks to the Honor Flight organization and the generosity of people across South Dakota, 1,400 veterans have now seen the memorial. It was an emotional journey that brought together old friends and families and re-surfaced stories that haven't been shared in decades.
The first weekend of May, 2009 the first Honor Flight left Sioux Falls and the first group of South Dakota veterans got to see the memorial for the first time in their lives.
Our camera was there to witness their emotions, thoughts, and stories.
They came from all walks of life; from the small towns of South Dakota to the farm fields of Iowa. Young men and women lined up to answer the call of duty. They served without question. They did it with pride. They grew up fast. And now it's time to say thank you.
One by one, the aging veterans entered the memorial with anticipation and tears, recalling battles won and lost. It's where they mark the price of freedom.
"I think about the men who died, especially who I was with in the Pacific, and lucky that I'm here today to talk to you," veteran William Degler of Sioux Falls said.
Each state and the District of Columbia that united in a common cause are inscribed on these pillars. Four-thousand gold stars commemorate the more than 400,000 Americans who died in battle.
"It's remarkable when you look at that," veteran Harland Danielsen said.
"It just brings tears to your eyes, all the men who lost their lives so many people in the street come up to you and say 'thank you,'" veteran Maynard Christiansen said.
"I thought this was the greatest thing I ever seen in my life, it was just unbelievable," Degler said.
Organizers of Honor Flight held a special ceremony at the memorial for those who didn't come back.
"This flag is placed at the South Dakota pillar in honor of those who have given their lives in the service of their country and in honor of those currently serving our country, may God watch over them," organizer Rick Tupper said.
Without question, the World War Two memorial is bringing back a lot painful memories for some of these vets, it's also evoking a lot of emotions for one soldier who never even saw battle.
"I was company clerk and I had one from just about every state that I took and sent overseas," Danielsen said. "It hurts to think about it, they didn't come back a lot of them good friends gone, Danielsen made them sign the papers to get the hell out of camp it ain't right."
More than 60 years after the war, these veterans pause to "reflect" not only on their war, but other battles that followed.
And even though no brick, no monument, no scripture can begin to accurately thank them for their valor or their service, these vets ponder their commitment.
As they pose for pictures at the memorial with a much younger generation, they wonder if America truly understands what they did.
"Sometimes I take a look around and I wonder is this the country I was fighting for," veteran Claude Hone Said. "Every time I see these young people, I know the country and the world is going to be alright."
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