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Thursday, April 14, 2011 03:18 pm

WWII vets return from their big day

Shouts and cheers exploded throughout the terminal at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, April 5, when the first veterans emerged through the doors after a day at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C [see “Honor flight sends WW II vets to Washington, D.C., for a day,” by Holly Dillemuth, April 7].

“This is wonderful,” said Dick Riehl, 86, who served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater. “We never expected this.”

Two lines of cheering family and community members formed on either side of the World War II and the Korean War veterans. Each veteran who walked through was greeted by waving American flags, signs, handshakes, pats on the back, hugs and genuine thanks from family and well-wishers. Some had waited from 8 p.m. until nearly 11 p.m. to show their appreciation.

The Land of Lincoln Honor Flight took 86 veterans on the flight, which took off around 7 a.m. and returned to Springfield after 10 p.m. that night. Despite heavy rain early in the day the day, veterans visited the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, Iwo Jima memorial, Air Force memorial, World War II Memorial, and the Air and Space Museum.

“It was a good day,” says Wiedle. “Started out a little wet but it cleared up.”

Mike Murphy, 57, was guardian for his father, Bob Murphy, 85. The elder Murphy was a Seabee in the U.S. Navy while the younger Murphy served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Both were most impressed by the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It was really impressive, and I learned something today,” says Mike Murphy. “When they change the guard, if the guys doing it know that there are World War II veterans, they do something special that know one knows about.

“Dad had a front row seat and this sergeant who was in charge of changing [the guard] just marched right up to him, I mean two feet away. And then when he turned, he made a big long scrape on the pavement as a salute to him.”

When the honor guard drags one of their feet, it makes a “scraping” noise, and salutes veterans of World War II.

“They do that especially for the veterans,” says Wiedle.

Another highlight of the honor flight was a family reunion of four generations including Bob Murphy, his son, Mike Murphy of Springfield, his grandson, Bobby Murphy, and great-grandson, Ethan Murphy, of Washington, D.C. In honor of his great-grandfather, 6-month-old Ethan Murphy was outfitted in a Seabee T-shirt just for the occasion.

The trip was a family affair for many other guardians like State Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, a Litchfield Republican, who escorted the veterans throughout the day. Rosenthal was a guardian for his dad, Kenny Rosenthal, 84, and uncle, Shirlen Rosenthal, 83, on the flight.

“I just think it was very heartfelt on their part that after all these years, they’re getting that kind of recognition,” says Wayne Rosenthal, “To me it was a great honor.”

Kenny Rosenthal, a resident of Morrisonville, served as a Navy bombardier and was based in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Shirlen Rosenthal, a Raymond resident, was a military police officer in the U.S. Army, and was deployed to Korea and Japan.

Rep. Wayne Rosenthal says that the men enjoyed all of the sites, including a stop at the Pentagon, which showed remnants that reminded many of terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

“You could see the difference in the color of the block on the Pentagon itself,” says Wayne Rosenthal.

But one of the most emotional parts of the day was the reception given to the men when they returned to Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.

“I think it was very unbelievable to them that people came out and really appreciated all the service they’d done,” he says.

Visit www.landoflincolnhonorflight.org to learn more.

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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