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Two groups of Jackson County’s World War II veterans visited Washington, D.C.’s war memorial this year thanks to a project spearheaded by the Sylva Rotary Club.

Honor Air flew eight veterans in fall 2008 and 13 veterans in spring 2009 to the nation’s capitol where the National WWII Memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S., the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home.

Jackson County Commissioners allocated $10,000 to the Sylva Rotary Club to help pay expenses for the spring trip.

“I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us,” said veteran Bill Watson at the commissioners’ meeting Monday (July 20) night. “It was just like Christmas.”

Other veterans echoed Watson’s sentiments. Veteran Claude Tallent said that although he had been to Washington before to see the Changing of the Guard he enjoyed making the trip to the memorial with his fellow soldiers. While en route from Asheville to Washington veterans met several government representatives including Congressman Heath Shuler, Sen. Richard Burr, retired Sen. Bob Dole, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole and retired four-star general Colin Powell.

“One thing I’ll never forget is I shook hands with General Powell,” Tallent said. “I didn’t wash my hands for about a week.”

The Honor Air project was created to provide an opportunity for so many veterans who, because of physical or financial limitations, may otherwise never see the memorial. In addition to the group from Jackson County, 88 other veterans from Western North Carolina, including from Haywood County made the spring trip to Washington.

“This was the greatest trip and the best organized I have ever seen,” said Glenn Hardesty, former Army Staff Sergeant.

Honor Air champion and immediate past president of the Sylva Rotary Club Scott Baker agreed.

“The only hiccup we had was one guy who forgot his teeth,” Baker said.

In addition to visiting the WWII memorial, veterans toured the Vietnam Memorial, Korean Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial and Lincoln Memorial. The group also watched the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Two more Honor Air flights to Washington are planned at this time. The Sylva Rotary Club is continuing fundraising efforts so that other local veterans may make the trip. To make a donation, or to get involved as a volunteer guardian on the trip, contact Baker at 828.293.0371.

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