It was a poignant moment. One of the 40 US veterans—who all traveled together on October 3 to Washington, DC—slowly approached the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. In his pocket was a crumpled scrap of paper. Written on it were the names of the comrades who’d served alongside him.
Nearing the wall, he caught sight of panel 61E. There they were . . . the names . . . all 90 of them, all killed on the same day.
“What a moment that was,” expresses US Navy veteran Jerry Fisher of Brighton Township, who organizes the annual Veterans DC Bus Trips with his wife, Lydian. “There was not a dry eye around. It can be very emotional for these vets.”
These free, one-day bus trips were started in 2006 by Vietnam War veteran Jim Hilts of Coraopolis. His father was a World War II veteran who passed away before Jim could get him down to see the World War II Memorial. So Jim made a vow to get as many World War II veterans down to see the memorial “before it’s too late.” Jim was in charge of the trips for some time. When he was unable to continue, Jerry and Lydian took over with the help of several volunteers.
As the number of World War II and Korean War veterans declined, the trip was open to all who served prior to May 15, 1975. “We do this as a way to give back something to those who sacrificed so much for our country,” Jerry says. In total, approximately 2,040 veterans have traveled on 44 buses since 2006.
The sites visited in the District include the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, the Marine Corps (Iwo Jima) Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, where they observe the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The excursions are offered every May and October departing from three pick-up points: downtown Beaver, Green Tree and Monroeville. Over the years, veterans have filled as many as five buses; now, the trips are typically one to two buses. It includes transportation to and from Washington, meals, snacks and beverages. A nurse, several volunteers and two local Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) students accompany the veterans. Wheelchairs are available on request.
The next trip is being planned for May 21.
The oldest participating World War II veteran, Charles Wiggins, 103, has made the trip several times in the past. “He couldn’t make last month’s trip but he’s ready to go in May 2020,” Jerry comments. “He will be 104. He told me, ‘Good Lord willing, I will be there’ and I said, ‘Charlie, as long as you’re still on two feet, you’re going with us’.”
Since the goal is to fill every seat with a veteran, family and friends are not able to attend. In order to continue offering the trips free to veterans, donations are gratefully accepted. Checks should be made payable to “The Vets Bus Trips” and mailed to Wesbanco, 701 Corporation Street, Beaver, PA 15009, ATTN: Vets Bus Trips.
For more information or to make a reservation for an upcoming trip, call (724) 709-3614.