Roy Mooney of Cleveland is one of the former soldiers who will board a plane Wednesday morning in Atlanta. Honor Flight Fayette, a local nonprofit branch of the national Honor Flight Network, will foot the bill for Mooney and the other veterans to visit to the memorial.
Mooney is a Pearl Harbor survivor. He celebrated his 85th birthday Friday and said he looks forward to his first visit to the National World War II memorial that was finished in April 2004.
"I’ve never been to the World War II memorial before," Mooney said. "I’m excited."
The 70 veterans and their 40 guardians will pile aboard two buses Wednesday morning amid the fanfare of a color guard ceremony and breakfast celebration.
Mooney said that without the assistance of Honor Flight Fayette, he might never see the memorial dedicated to him and the 16 million who served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II.
The memorial is also dedicated to the 400,000 Americans who died in the war and to all those who supported the war effort on the home front.
Honor Flight Fayette is a Fayette County group associated with the national Honor Flight Network that raises funds to finance the transportation of American war veterans to their respective war memorials in Washington, D.C.
Gail Sparrow, president of Honor Flight Fayette, said she helped to start the organization in the fall of last year with the help of Vice President Mark Buckner and Brenda Smith.
"When we started out, we thought ‘Are we even going to get anybody interested?’ But since then it has mushroomed," Sparrow said.
Last year on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day, Sparrow started signing veterans up for a spring flight to Washington, D.C. She was surprised when 45 veterans signed up for the trip on the first day, most of whom applied online.
"We want to find them all and get them up there. We love our veterans, and we want to honor their sacrifice. This is our gift to them," Sparrow said. "They had to wait way too long for this memorial."
"It’s a generation that didn’t expect much accolades. They just came back from the war and went about their business, and maybe they didn’t get the accolades they deserve," she said.
Sparrow, who recently retired from her career as a middle school history teacher, said time is of the essence for many aging World War II veterans wanting to visit the memorial. Also, she said some veterans have spent time visiting local schools to give school kids insight into the twentieth century’s biggest war.
Some schools have even pitched in to help veterans visit the memorial. Sparrow said Whitewater Middle School in Fayette County held bake sales and raised $3,200 for Honor Flight Fayette to provide veterans like Mooney with transportation.
"They’re dying, and this firsthand knowledge will be gone soon," Sparrow said.
Sparrow said the veterans leaving for the one-day trip to Washington, D.C., range in age from 80 to 92 years old, and she describes them as a "spry" group. She said 122 other veterans are on the waiting list for another Honor Flight Fayette trip to the nation’s capital this fall.
Mooney said he was in the U.S. Army from September 1940 to June 1945. He was stationed at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu, and was 12 miles away from Pearl Harbor when Japanese forces attacked that infamous Sunday morning.
"There were 225 of us in my company, and I’m probably one of a dozen still alive," Mooney said.
"I’d say it’s very humbling and very emotional that people would do this," he said. "Pearl Harbor was 66 years ago. It’s old to me, but it’s still emotional for me."
Mooney said he looks forward to the company of other veterans, and hopes to rekindle some old friendships as a result of the trip.
"I’d like to pull up a few names while I’m at the memorial and see if I can remember them and maybe contact them," he said.
Mooney said he remembers the four years, 10 months and 14 days he spent in the army.
"People always laugh," he said. "I used to could tell you the hours. It’s just hard to forget four years, 10 months and 14 days."