Some statistics estimate that about 12 to 15 thousand WWII vets die per day here in the United States.
Those alarming, heartbreaking numbers have prompted a non-profit group called 'Leatherstocking Honor Flight Network' to set a goal of getting every Capital Region WWII vet down to Washington D.C. to see the official WWII Memorial dedicated to their service, before it's too late.
On April 28th, FOX23 News Reporter Julie Tremmel, and Photographer Peter Busa had the opportunity to fly along with 38 local vets as they experienced the 'Flight of a Lifetime,' meeting some pretty influential people along the way.
The vets on this trip used walkers, canes and wheelchairs, in short, ‘whatever it took’ to get there.
The military men said they were on a ‘mission to make it,’ and despite all the aches and pains- they did.
And in addition to 'taking it all in' at the WWII memorial itself, some Capital Region Honor Flight vets also got to rub elbows with the lawmaker who was most instrumental in securing the $180 million dollars in funding to build the expansive memorial.
During the trip, 91-year-old Mechanicville Air Force B-17 bombadier Percy Angle received an extra special greeting from Former U.S. Senators Bob and Elizabeth Dole.
“Oh! Senator?” Percy Angle said as he greeted Senator Bob Dole of Kansas from the seat of his wheelchair.
Turning his head to the left Angle asked, “And are you Elizabeth Dole?”
“I am!” she answered with a smile.
“Well, for goodness sake. Let me shake your hand too then!” Angle said.
To that, Senator Elizabeth Dole said, “I want a hug. Can you give me a big hug?”
And with that, Angle received a big hug, and kiss on the cheek from the former North Carolina lawmaker.
Angle later said, in his wildest dreams, he never expected to trade war stories with such a powerful pair.
It didn’t take long to understand, just by watching Former Senator Bob Dole, that he shares a special bond with each and every one of the servicemen and women he meets.
Senator Dole himself is a wounded WWII vet.
“We dropped a lot of bombs on Germany,” Angle said to Senator Bob Dole.
To that Dole asked, “Did you fly Italy too?”
Percy answered “I flew out of Italy. I flew from (a town called) Foggia.”
Honor Flight Network Administrators say the Doles set up a wooden chair at the WWII Memorial often, specifically to meet Honor Flight vets from all over the country just like Percy Angle.
“It kind of makes you understand again how lucky we are to live in a free country because of the men and women who are still lef. There are not many of us left, only about 2 million of us left out of 16.5 million, but they all seem to be in pretty good shape,” Dole said with a smile.
His wife Elizabeth chimed in saying, “It's great to have an opportunity to be with these heroes and to thank them for saving America and saving the world for freedom and democracy. What a legacy they have!”
This trip to ‘their memorial,’ and the hundreds of greetings they received along the way a surprise eye opener for every Honor Flight vet.
Each handshake and hug seeming to bring a new understanding that they are appreciated, knowing that the sacrifices they made so many years ago, do still matter now.
WWII vet Harry Moon was an Army Sgt. During the war.
And at 89-years-old, thought he had seen it all.
But after seeing the outpouring from both citizens and active duty military personnell across Washington D.C., Honor Flight had changed his mind about that.
“I've never seen nothing this big. I've never seen so many good people. I never realized that this would ever happen, everybody is here.”
After a long pause Moon said, “I almost didn't come. I didn't realize the people were coming like they do. Everybody came.”
Robert Montenaro is a proud veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
The Broadalbin resident agrees that certain parts of the trip, especially the response from tourists and other people he met, was nothing short of extraordinary.
Montenaro said, “I didn't expect it. But they said ‘you wouldn't regret it’ when people told me to get on that flight ,yes. And I certainly don’t.”
The 38 WWII vets from around the Capital Region also visited Arlington National Cemetary and the Iwo Jima Memorial during their Washington D.C. trip.
On Friday at 10p.m. FOX23 News will bring you the veterans’ story as they experience the last leg of their emotional trip.
The Leatherstocking Honor Flight Network is still looking for WWII vets who may be interested in participating in the next honor flight.
For more information about the program, or to find out how to volunteer or donate money to the cause, click here.