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WWII Veterans Make Trip to Washington D.C.

It was a trip of a lifetime for 110 World War II veterans from South Dakota as they embarked on a journey to Washington D.C. to see the memorial built in their honor.
/ Source: KNBN-TV

It was a trip of a lifetime for 110 World War II veterans from South Dakota as they embarked on a journey to Washington D.C. to see the memorial built in their honor.

The whirlwind trip brought back memories, spurred tears, and gave a group of war veterans the chance to reflect on the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment that defines them as "The Greatest Generation."

World War II Veteran Harold Fritzsche was drafted into the Army and served from 1943 to 1945, spending much of that time in occupation of Japan.

Harold Fritzsche says, "I didn't get any combat action, for which I'm thankful.  I wouldn't be sitting here now if that had happened, I'm sure."

Last Friday morning, Harold and 109 other veterans boarded a plane for Washington D.C. for the state's second Honor Flight.  The group embarked on the whirlwind trip to see the World War II Memorial built in their honor.

Fritzsche says, "That's only two days, but to me, it seemed maybe like four or five days.  Time just disappeared and we saw so much in such a short period of time."

On their trip, the veterans visited the Air Force Memorial, the Washington Memorial, the Vietnam and Korean Memorial, and even shook hands with veteran politician Bob Dole.

Fritzsche also says, "Everybody got off the bus and it was like a magnet going to Bob.  He's such a well known and liked man."

But on Saturday the group journeyed to the place that inspired the purpose of their mission.

Fritzsche says, "It's very, very impressive when you realize they have a wall of stars and there's 4,000 stars.  Each one of those stars represents 10,000 men that died."

Fritzsche says walking around the memorial and seeing the wall of stars, the freedom wall, and the pillars, it wasn't about the ones who were there.

"I guess the thing that you think about right away are the ones who aren't there," says Fritzsche.     

Including fellow veteran Leo Thovson, who sadly passed away just five days before he was supposed to go on the trip.

Fritzsche says, "They put that flag on that post.  We had our picture taken underneath it, so he was with us in spirit."

Fritzsche says the trip was a once in a lifetime journey he hopes every veteran of World War II will get to experience.

"When you walk through, it's not a solemn place.  There's laughter, not a lot, but there's some joy; but not with the guys.  It was pretty much a solemn visit," says Fritzsche.

The memorial opened to the public on Apr. 29, 2004.  It honors the 16 million who served in the Armed Forces of the U.S.