MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Dozens of local veterans took a much-deserved trip to the nation's capitol on Wednesday.
John Stapleton, one of those veterans who served in the Army, took part in Honor Flight VIII. He and several others visited the World War II memorial in Washington D.C.
"I spent three birthdays: 1943, '44 and '45 overseas," said James Stapleton.
Promptly, at 0600, Stapleton and the other servicemen arrived at their point of embarkation, Mobile Regional Airport.
Their mission wasn't like the missions they'd conducted during World War II. On Wednesday, this assignment was different: to be thanked for everything they sacrificed during the conflict.
Stapleton is a retired Army soldier. In 1943, he was encouraged by a relative to enlist, but he wouldn't get the chance.
"I didn't join, Uncle Sam sent me a letter. He said, 'Greetings!'" Stapleton said with a chuckle. "I had no choice."
Stapleton served in the third Army Division in Germany, and in 1944 he took part in the Battle of the Bulge. He said the weather didn't help in that battle.
"It was tough, believe me. It was cold, rainy, real nasty," he said.
In December 1944, more than 200,000 Germans launched a counteroffensive in the Ardennes Forest, a fierce effort to turn the tide of the war.
Stapleton supplied the front lines in the midst of buzz bombs. He was shocked at the number of dead.
"[I remember a] six by two truck, just loaded with dead corpses. Just stacked like cordwood, comin to be buried," said Stapleton. "I try to wipe it out of my mind, but I think about it quite often."
But Stapleton made it through and returned to a grateful nation. Now, that nation is expressing its thanks again — Stapleton joined dozens of other local veterans to visit the World War II memorial in Washington.
Dr. Barry Booth, an organizer of the Honor Flight said, "It's the greatest field trip they've had since the original one they had."
These men and women swore their lives to protect this country more then seven decades ago, and Dr. Booth feels they've earned the right to see the memorial built in their honor.
The veterans will spend a little more than an hour at the WWII memorial, and then they'll go to the Korean War Memorial, the Iwo Jima statue, and they'll also go to Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard.
"It is absolutely a privilege for every single one of us that's involved with Honor Flight," Booth said. "To see the expression on these veterans' faces, you'll know how much they appreciate it too."
So Stapleton marched to his post, a seat on a chartered plan, and later embarked on his mission, one that he earned the right to take part in.
He and the others will arrive back in Mobile at 7:30 Wednesday evening and the public is welcome to attend to give them a hero's welcome.
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