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Honor Flight members receive rousing send-off in Owensboro

 BY RICH SUWANSKI The Messenger-Inquirer

OWENSBORO - More than 100 people waved American flags and chanted "USA, USA, USA" Thursday afternoon as a motorcade with 11 local World War II veterans left the Sportscenter parking lot for their Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

The men were showered with well wishes from family and fellow service members, videotaped with hand-held cameras, and greeted by city, county and state officials during a send-off that would take them to see the National World War II Memorial and other sites in the Capitol before returning to the Sportscenter at 12:15 p.m. Saturday. At 1 p.m., Owensboro will honor them and other World War II veterans during a D-Day service.

Kathy Calcaterra, site supervisor for the Owensboro Parks and Recreation Summer Day Camp, brought about 25 youngsters ages 5 to 13 to the War Memorial to join in the brief event.

They stood quietly during a prayer, listened to officials' remarks and cheered when it came time for the send-off.

"For respect," Calcaterra said.

And that was the theme for the day.

Mike Staser, who served in the Air Force from 1981-92 and is a member of AMVETS Post 119, said he likes supporting the veterans.

"All the veterans need to be thanked for what they do," he said. "When I see a show like today, I feel good that the community is behind them."

Mac Morris, who served in the Navy and fought on D-Day at Omaha Beach, said he's been to the World War II Memorial before but never on an Honor Flight.

"We came back from the war, and we're representing our buddies who fought in the foxholes with us, or who died aboard the landing craft that I was on," Morris said.

Don White, who served in the Navy in World War II and Korea, was also going on the Honor Flight and called it a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

"It makes me wonder why I didn't go before," he said.

Navy veteran Norm Sanders, who served in the South Pacific, said he was told the World War II Memorial was "spectacular, and I wanted to see that."

He said it doesn't take much for him to get emotional, so it's likely he'll "tear up" in Washington.

Sanders said he was at Okinawa the day the Japanese surrendered, and the 200 ships waiting there, gearing up for an invasion that wasn't needed, shot off their guns in celebration.

"Bang, bang, bang," he said. "You'll never see a Fourth of July celebration like that. They shot everything they had. Unfortunately, several people were hurt and killed."

Philip Hill, who served in the Marines, attended the send-off, remembering his late father, James Earl Hill, who fought the Germans in Italy. 

"These are my veteran friends," Hill said after posing for a picture with one of the Honor Flight veterans. "They paid the hard price for D-Day and the whole war.

"Without them, I doubt we'd be standing here." 

Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain, who organizes the local Honor Flight, said the World War II veterans, who were part of an era affectionately known as The Greatest Generation, "never abandoned their faith, never compromised their values, and just did what needed to be done, asking nothing in return, nor wanting nothing in return.

"This is the same generation that brought us out of the Great Depression and then marched off to war and left behind dreams and goals, their lives and loves, to fight in a foreign land," Cain said. "They bled and died, and those individuals that did come back married their high school sweetheart, set about doing whatever they did and never spoke of the horrors that they endured."

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