PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Sixteen million men and women served during WWII and only 1.5 million are still alive. There is a non-profit group determined to make sure they are all honored. It's called the Honor Flight. The group takes WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial built in their honor. During this free trip, they get treated like the heroes they are. We talked with one lucky veteran from the Coachella Valley who took the trip.
Durwood "Dee" Burns served in WWII and Korea. "I don't think I've ever been so pleased and happy," he said.
Burns waited more than a year to take what he calls a trip of a lifetime.
"It was great from the word go; you just checked in and they took care of everything," said Burns.
The three day trip took Burns and about a dozen other vets to Washington, D.C.
"They put us on a US Airways flight and gave us all the front seats and told all the people outside that we were there so when they came in it was all shake hands and 'thank you, thank you' and that kind of all blew us away because we weren't expecting something like that," said Burns.
When they landed in Baltimore, the vets were greeted like heroes.
"There were fire trucks giving us the water salute and we wondered who were the celebrities and we found out it was us," said Burns.
When Burns served in the Air Force his homecoming was much different.
"There was no fanfare, we just came home and went back to work," said Burns. "So for this to happen later on down the line, it just blew our mind, just really something."
The veterans spent a day touring the nation's monuments with active duty military.
"It was very inspiring. Everywhere you went, people thanked you and clapped and for those kids to give up their time to push us around it was really something," said Burns.
The vets visited Arlington National Cemetery.
"The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck," said Burns. "I know that there were several that we left, no body knew who they were."
They also visited the memorials for Vietnam and Korea.
"It is very impressive. It gets to you, you go away with a lump in your throat realizing how many people made the sacrifice so that we can all be free and how lucky we few are that survived."
Burns says the WWII Memorial was the most impressive.
"It was just history in the making and I was part of it," said Burns.
The freedom wall at the memorial stood out to Burns. Each star on the wall represents 100 Americans killed, there are over 4,000 of them.
"I just stood and looked at it for a long time realizing how many people I knew that were in those stars and it was sobering," said Burns.
Burns says at 91 years old, this trip was life changing.
Sara Burns, his wife, says, "He was quite different a long time after he came home. You could tell he really felt different."
"For the first time in my life, I felt like I was somebody, that I had done something that was really worth while," said Burns.
"I was so excited for him, I was just so thrilled, I knew what it meant to him," said Sara Burns.
"I just couldn't get over it, it just blew my mind," said Dee Burns.
Right now there is a two to three year waiting list to go on the Honor Flight for vets in Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. There is just not enough donations to take everyone. If you would like to help, or find out more information about the flight, click here.
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