Spirits soar on Honor Flight for vets
By TOM CAMPBELL
Photo by Tom Campbell
Visiting the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., is a memory shared by Army veteran Ralph Green and Honor Flight organizer Pam Mow.
The National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., never looked better than on this perfect afternoon of a fading summer day. It is a breathtaking collection of marble and bronze with pools and fountains arching streams of water into a sky as azure as the pool from which they came.
Its location is equally inspiring, situated halfway between monuments dedicated to Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln – one the man who helped to create our nation, the other the man who held it together when war threatened to pull it apart.
Smack dab in the middle is a monument honoring what has been called "The Greatest Generation," many who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
Pam Mow and Ralph Green, MS '50, PhD '54, proudly stood there, along with 79 fellow World War II veterans and their guardians, and took in all that surrounded them. Green was part of the second Greater Lafayette Honor Flight, a one-day trip from Lafayette to Washington to tour as many monuments as the group of 80- to 90-year-old veterans could squeeze into one afternoon.
Mow, an administrative assistant in Purdue's Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, organized the trip.
It wasn't the first time either had seen this shrine to freedom. But each would agree it never looked so good as on that September day. Maybe it was the company of each other that made it look different, that somehow made it feel special.
They took a bus to the Lincoln Memorial. Many made the short walk to memorials honoring soldiers who fought in Vietnam and Korea.
Green (left) and a fellow soldier in France in 1945.
But mostly they came to visit the World War II Memorial, many for the first time and, because of their ages, perhaps for the last time. As co-president of the Greater Lafayette Honor Flight and president of the Indiana Gold Star Mothers, Mow planned the trip to say thank you to America's Greatest Generation.
"These World War II veterans are dying off at the rate of about 1,000 a day," said Mow. "We need to thank them for their service before it is too late."
At the monument's center, etched into a wedge of marble, are the words "Here we mark the price of freedom." Behind the wedge and a reflecting pool, a concave wall supports 4,000 gold stars, each representing 100 soldiers who lost their lives in the war.
Mow and Green know that price all too well. Green, a professor emeritus of botany and plant pathology, was just 21 when he first felt the rage of war in December 1944.
"We were on an LCT (landing craft tank) headed to France from England. We were crossing the English Channel at night," said Green, now 89, recalling the memory as if it happened last week instead of 68 years ago. As a machine gunner in the 66th Infantry Division, Green approached the Normandy beach in a smaller, maneuverable landing craft tank (LCT) that was more adept at returning enemy fire than the transport ship that carried a large portion of Green's division.
"The 66th Infantry Division crossed the English Channel just prior to one of the last major battles in the European Theater," Green said, referring to the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in Belgium.
"One of the three divisional regiments crossed the channel in a large transport ship, holding as many as 15,000 troops.
"Shortly after the channel crossing, our orders were changed and we moved toward the south of France, rather than towards Belgium, where we were to join other American forces in that area.