Lest we forget: Area veterans travel to Washington to view war memorials

In May of this year, 40 area veterans boarded a tour bus for a five-hour ride to Washington, DC. Their mission was to view the national military memorials to which they could relate. Significant parts of American history are depicted in impressive works of art at each memorial.

The World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials, accompanied by the famous Iwo Jima and Air Force tributes, will remain etched in their memories.

On the way, at a prearranged rest area, the company was treated to lunch by volunteers and three young ROTC Marines. As the bus unloaded in Washington, volunteers quickly assisted the vets who needed wheelchairs to navigate the spacious and eye-catching World War II Memorial. Moving onto the Korean War memorial with its 19 poncho-clad GIs in the field triggered sharp memories for those who fought in “The Land of the Morning Calm”, as it was once known. The Vietnam era veterans were remembered with three contrasting soldiers portraying a small yet determined young American fighting and dying in a foreign land.

From a distance, the men and women viewed the Air Force memorial. It was definitely different, but appropriate.

The final presentation occurred in Arlington Cemetery. It was an emotional experience with the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while a bugler played “Taps.” The event requires silence from the spectators and is complied with without question.

On the ride home, food was again served at another spacious rest area. Sitting on picnic benches, recollections of the memorable day began. The oldest veteran on the trip was Charles Wiggins who turned 100 in September, recalled being in the Navy at a young age and ended up being a CB then promoted to 1st Class Seaman. While being in Dublin, Georgia, “I took care of the wounded,” he shared. After his tour of duty, Charles went to work for the Post Office. When asked what he attributes his long life to, he answers simply: “I’ve been blessed.”

Ruth Appelton, 93, a Marine with a hearty laugh, made her first visit to DC and the national military memorials. Asked why, she paused then answered: “I have so much respect for our veterans.” Fresh out of high school with little work to be found, the Ross Township resident joined the Marine Corp. Ruth worked as a quartermaster, not a glamorous position but an essential one during war time. Upon return, she took a job at Trader Horn, working there until she was 90. When the company closed, the feisty grey-haired Marine was a bit miffed when nobody would hire her.

Another Ross Township resident, Al Gonchar, 72, served as a flight line attendant mechanic working on Air Force B-52 bombers. His comment on his second visit to the historical site: “This place never loses its importance.”

Navy veteran, Jerry Fisher and wife, Lydian, along with their team of dedicated volunteers, deserve a salute for their unflagging support of veterans in the past 10 years by covering all the aspects of transporting hundreds of veterans to the memorials. And lest we forget, we live in the land of the free because of the brave.

By Jimmy Dunn
For Pittsburgh Senior News

Jimmy Dunn in front of the Korean Memorial.
Photo credit: Al Gonchar

Veterans at the WWII Memorial.
Photo credit: Al Gonchar

Jimmy Dunn shake hands with youngsters.
Photo credit: Al Gonchar

Former Marine Ruth Appleton and Charles Wiggins enjoy the day.
Photo credit: Al Gonchar