Veterans Day is a tribute to all U.S. veterans, especially all living veterans who served honorably in the military services in war or peace, but it’s especially appropriate to honor the men and women who served in World War II. Of the 16 million Americans who served, approximately 1.9 million are living, although they are dying at a rate of about 1,000 a day, according to the Department of Defense.
Across the country, 110,000 WWII veterans have visited the WWII Memorial in Washington on Honor Flights, volunteer organizations that charter airline flights, and raise money to take veterans to Washington. Guardians pay $500 but that does not cover all of the costs. The Honor Flight Myrtle Beach has had six trips and has No. 7 “on the books for April 16, 2014,’’ says Bill Krzyk. The most recent trip, on Aug. 28, included the 500th WWII veteran on area flights, Claude Huggins of Summit Place in Little River.
What a day it was for Huggins, accompanied by his son Ed as guardian, and the other 72 veterans. The Myrtle Beach group received more attention from greeters in Washington because they were the only Honor Flight group that day, which was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the now famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. The WWII Memorial is typically the first stop of many, but because of the crowds, the group did not get into the WWII Memorial until late afternoon.
Honor Flight’s “focus No. 1 is to locate veterans,’’ Krzyk says. Flight No. 6 had 10 months to locate WWII veterans and raise money, but No. 7 has six months including five weeks or more of Thanksgiving through New Year’s holiday time when folks’ attention is on the holidays.
“I always look at it a little pessimistically -- it keeps me aggressive’’ in ensuring there are no empty seats on the plane. The odds are against finding more veterans directly, so Krzyk and other volunteers have extended the area. He has feelers out as far north as Raleigh, N.C., and is contacting American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and assisted living facilities in a dozen counties. North Carolina no longer has Honor Flights.
“If you get them here, we’ll get them there,’’ Krzyk tells assisted living places and veterans organizations in more distant locations.
The WWII Registry is “a part of the memorial experience,’’ but one need not be in Washington to check the registry for a name of a veteran who served in WWII, and then, if the veteran is not listed, register the person. Krzyk, his sister and brother, registered their late father, who served in the Navy in the war and stayed for a career.
Many folks along the Grand Strand, spotting a military cap, tell veterans of all ages, “Thank you for your service.’’ It’s surely appropriate and no doubt appreciated by veterans, regardless of when they served. As we pay tribute to all veterans, look for those who served in WWII; ask if they’ve been on an Honor Flight; see if they are in the WWII Registry.