FLEMINGSBURG -- As Veteran's Day 2011 draws near, power cooperatives across Kentucky have joined together to honor those who fought in World War II.
On Saturday, Oct. 22, 35 World War II veterans from Kentucky will travel to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorial created in 2004 to honor their service.
For many, the trip wouldn't be possible without a sponsorship by Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, including local companies Fleming-Mason Energy and East Kentucky Power Cooperative, through the Bluegrass Chapter of the Honor Flight Network.
This is the first year Touchstone Energy Cooperatives have signed on as sponsors to the Bluegrass Chapter of Honor Flight Network. The trip is free to veterans, and Fleming-Mason and EKPC are splitting the cost of the $300 per veteran.
According to Mary Beth Nance, director of member services at Fleming-Mason, 16 of the 35 attending are from one of EKPC's 16 member cooperatives, and the remaining 19 are sponsored by other Touchstone Energy Cooperatives in Kentucky.
Although no local veterans will be on Saturday's flight, Fleming County residents Ray Davenport and Pete McNeil made the trip on Oct. 6.
Davenport had visited Washington, D.C. before, but hadn't been to the memorial. He applied for the trip after seeing an advertisement in Kentucky Living.
"It's wonderful, really big and everything in it has a meaning, no matter what it is," Davenport said of the memorial's design. He specifically noted the pillars representing each state and the brass rope connecting each one to the other, representing the connections between each state, forming a nation.
Davenport said he thinks the monument reflects the country's understanding that if the United States and its Allies hadn't won the war, "we'd be speaking German or Japanese."
"People are realizing how important that war was," he said.
Davenport served in active duty with the U.S. Army from April 1943 to Jan. 6, 1946; his tours of duty took him to England, France, Germany and Luxembourg.
For McNeil, it was his second visit to the memorial, the first being with his daughter.
"It's very impressive. It's a very innovative design, brought all the states together," he said of the memorial.
But for McNeil, he said it was the arrival back at the Louisville Airport that "was the most impressive thing" about the trip. He said he and his fellow veterans, there were 100 who took the flight, were greeted at the airport arrival gate all the way to the baggage claim area by about 300 people, who applauded and shouted words of thanks to the men.
"It was a tremendous welcome. It was a moving experience for me. I would encourage any World War II veteran who can, to take that flight, they will never forget it," McNeil said.
McNeil served with the amphibious Navy from 1944 to 1950 in the Pacific Ocean.
Nance said the purpose of sponsoring the flights to get more World War II veterans to sign-up for the one-day visit and to inform the public of the Honor Flight program.
Nance, serving as a representative for Fleming-Mason Energy, will be on Saturday's flight, making this her first opportunity to serve as a guardian to the veteran's throughout the trip. Nance personally sponsored an Honor Flight for a veteran several years ago.
"These brave guys risked their lives and endured untold suffering on our behalf, so we could enjoy the freedom we often take for granted," said Nance. "We felt like this trip is the least we could do as a way of saying 'thank you.'"
The one-day trip begins at 5:30 a.m., when veterans and guardians arrive at the Louisville Airport; the next stop is Maryland, where they will board buses for the trip to Washington, D.C. The day will include visiting other U.S. War memorials and being greeted by various government officials.
"I'm so excited, I can hardly stand it," Nance said of the trip and her role as guardian.
"If we don't do something for these veterans soon, it will be too late," said Nance. "We've all been tremendously moved as we've worked on this project and learned their stories. It would be a great thing if other co-ops had this same experience. It's really gratifying."
Nance said World War II veterans or their families can learn more about the Bluegrass Chapter of Honor Flight Network by going online to www.honorflightbluegrass.org or by calling her office at 606-845-2661 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.