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Weber on Honor Flight for WWII Vets

At Arlington National Cemetery ... Greg Weber, left, was one of the 117 World War II veterans who were on the Rapid City to Washington, D.C. Honor Flight, September 23-24. He was joined by his son, Craig Weber, who was a last-minute addition to the 40-60 guardians and medical staff accompanying the veterans.

Gregor "Greg" Weber could not make his originally scheduled Honor Flight for Veterans last year. This year, though, he did make the most recent trip based out of Rapid City, September 23-24.

"This is going to be the birthday present of my life, however long that may be," said Weber, whose birthday was September 21. He said, "Both days were humid and in the 90s, but it was a wonderful trip, nice clear days. It was a wonderful time. They pack a lot into two days. We had box lunches so we could eat while going from one place to the others. Everyone was always very kind and gracious and helpful. It took me three to four days to recover."

Weber said that the group met Wednesday evening for registration and a banquet at the American Legion hall in Rapid City. Veterans and guardians received name tags and matching shirts, caps, windbreakers and duffle bags. At 5:00 a.m. Thursday a ceremony was held before they boarded the plane. Governor Mike Rounds and Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard spoke. Rapid City Mayor Alan Hanks joined the flight as a guardian.

Once in Washington, the group was divided and assigned into three buses, one red, one white and one blue. Any necessary wheelchairs and walkers were disembarked first. Some of the stops that the group visited included the World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and Korean Memorial.

"They pack a lot into two days," said Craig Weber, Greg's son. "Did they ever," said Gregor. Though Greg does not require a wheelchair, he rode for comfort and for speed. Craig related that the Air and Space Museum was so big that, "We were there an hour and a half and, basically, I never stopped walking." At the Navy Memorial, during a retirement ceremony for a rear admiral, the speaker noted the Honor Flight from South Dakota and the audience gave a round of applause.

"All of those memorials were fantastic," said Greg. "The one thing that impressed me the most of all was the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The way they handle themselves is as strict and as polished as you could be. There is to be no sound at all except the clicking of their shoes as they march. I once thought the Lincoln Memorial was the most impressive. It's still there, but there are some others that are giving it a run for its money."

Greg thought the motel was also very nice. During the evening banquet, the emcee encouraged as many veterans as possible to tell their stories. Weber, in the service from April 1943 to December 1945, was in the Army First Cavalry division. The division was part of many assaults in the western Pacific. It was also the first division into Tokyo after the surrender. "When we heard about the surrender, the officers, non-coms and G.I.s became friends. We were so happy that night that everyone forgot to sound taps," said Weber.

The busses traveled by many important sights. The Pentagon has been repaired since the 9-11 terrorist attack, but the new work was purposefully made to not visually match exactly with the original exterior walls.

During the return flight, there was mail call. Rapid City and Spearfish elementary students had written letters to the Honor Flight veterans. "You could tell that it was a teacher-suggested letter, but it was kind of nice. I sent replies. I think that they will get a little kick out of it," said Weber.

Last year, over 700 WWII veterans made the two-day visit to Washington DC. The trip is free to WWII veterans who have applied to the program and includes visits to the new WWII National Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and several service branch memorials. Guardians pay their own trip expenses.

Honor Flight South Dakota "Completing the Mission" has four remaining flights in 2010. The first 2010 flight was August 20 out of Sioux Falls and the second was this one out of Rapid City. Another 500 WWII veterans are on the waiting list. The other flights will be October 22 and November 11 out of Sioux Falls.

The National WWII Memorial was completed and dedicated in 2004, at a time when most surviving veterans from the era were over 80 years old and were not likely to have the means or support to travel to see the memorial on their own. Shortly after the dedication, the concept of Honor Flight was established. The idea transformed into the Honor Flight Network, a group of volunteers dedicated to giving a free trip to every WWII veteran who wants to see the National WWII Memorial. Now, it advises and supports this mission through the work of local community groups.