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'It's beautiful': Hagerstown veterans moved by visit to World War II Memorial

April 11, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As a marching band from Irvine, Calif., played "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., a group of Hagerstown veterans who served in that war paused respectfully.

The aged warriors removed their hats and put their hands over their hearts. For some, Thursday was the first time they visited the monument, a project that took nearly six decades after the war ended to get off the drawing board.

"It's beautiful -- really beautiful," said Paul Reginald Andrews, 81, who served with the Army's 88th Infantry Division during the war. "I think it's great they did this for us."

Andrews and nearly 40 other World War II veterans were treated to the free trip by local sponsors. In addition to the World War II Memorial, they stopped at the Iwo Jima memorial and took a walk near the Capitol.

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Just before 8 a.m., they gathered in a parking lot near City Hall and boarded the bus that took them from Hagerstown to the nation's capital. Slowed by age, some of the veterans used canes to help them board the bus. Sixty-five years earlier, humanity relied on their agile bodies to save the world from tyranny.

The World War II Memorial wasn't dedicated until 2004 -- 59 years after the war ended. Memorials to U.S. veterans of later conflicts, like those in Korea and Vietnam, were built long before.

It took so many years for the memorial to come to fruition that many World War II veterans died before they could pay a visit, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the roughly 16 million Americans who served in the war, only 2.8 million are alive. About 1,000 die each day.

To Lester Hart, 90, who said he served in Italy with the Army's 10th Mountain Division, the World War II Memorial was a long time coming.

Hart said his brother, Harold, a veteran of the infamous Bataan Death March, would have enjoyed seeing the memorial before he died two years ago.

"He was scheduled to make the trip a few years ago, but didn't go," Hart said of his brother. "It would have been nice for him to see it."

Other visitors didn't seem to notice as a Marine helicopter passed over the memorial. Instead, they gathered in front of the veterans from Hagerstown, who were posing for a group photo.

Some of the onlookers applauded, while others wept. One woman simply said, "Thank you."

Chris Arcadia of Potomac, Md., stopped one of the veterans to shake hands.

"We have a lot of respect for the armed services," Arcadia said. "I very much respect what these men did."

The trip was the idea of Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, who helped pool local sponsors to pay for the outing. Only residents of the City of Hagerstown were invited.

In his 14 years on the City Council, Metzner said he never witnessed anything that was so inspirational. The near-perfect weather played a huge factor, he said.

Metzner spoke briefly to the veterans on the bus, thanking each of them for their military service. He said his father served in Europe during the war.

"We had some smiles and some tears," Metzner said. "I think it was very moving for everybody ... This was one memorial that was long overdue."

The trip was sponsored by Conservit Inc., Callas Contractors Inc., McDonald's and several Hagerstown businesses, including CVS Pharmacy and Weis Markets.




Coming Sunday: Veterans share memories of their service and the war.

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