Taft Midway Driller, West Side Waste Management, Huddleston Crane to send Taft WWII veterans to Washington
The greatest men and women from America's Greatest Generation were finally given a memorial of their own in the nation's capitol in 2004, nearly 60 years after the end of World War II.
For many, it was too late to see it and and for many others, it was getting to be too late in their lives to go.
So, before times runs out a nonprofit group has taken upon itself the task of raising money to help fly America's rapidly dwindling population of World War II veterans back to see the memorial dedicated to them while they can still appreciate it.
Honor Flight of Kern County has already flown to Taft WWII veterans – Pete Gianopulos in 2011 and Carl Thompson – this year – back to Washington, and now, local businesses are teaming up to make sure more Taft veterans get their chance to see the World War II memorial and the nation's capitol before they pass away.
Taft Midway Driller, Westside Waste Management, Huddleston Crane and two more firms to be named later are going to lead a fundraising effort to send one Taft WW II veteran on every Honor Flight leaving Kern County.
Bob Hampton, owner of Westside Waste Management, said its a good way to help the community and the veterans.
"It's just another way to give something back to the community," Hampton said. "It's always nice helping the hometown."
There's another reason, too.
"I've got friends who are World War II veterans," Hampton said. Those friends include the late Charlie Hudson, a Taftian who became a highly decorated bomber crewman in WW II.
Taft Midway Driller Editor Doug Keeler announced the start of Taft's participation in Honors Flight of Kern County
"I've spent my life in Taft and our World War II veterans have been my heroes all my life. I'm in awe in what they accomplished both in the war and back here at home," he said. "My father was a Seabee in the South Pacific during the war, and as an adult I've read accounts by both Pete Gianopulos and Don Osborne. They're still my heroes."
Dave Noerr of Huddleston Crane has long been a supporter of the military and veterans.
"I truly believe we can never do enough nor have we ever done enough to honor the service and the sacrifice of these people who served our county," he said.
Noerr has travelled extensively, and one trip included a visit to the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach in France, where many of the American's killed in the D-Day invasion are buried.
He says we all take the sacrifices that have kept our country free for granted.
Details of the fundraising program will be announced soon.
Taft participation was announced Wednesday morning at the Taft Chamber of Commerce Sit n' Sip, where Lili Marsh, the local founder and chair of Honor Flight gave an overview of the problem.
The youngest WW II veterans already in the mid to late 80s (some are as young as 84, but only because they lied about their age and enlisted at age 16 or 17) and the nation's WW II veterans are passing on at the rate of 1,100 per day, Marsh said.
"The memorial was not there when they were young enough, healthy enough and able to afford it," said Marsh.
That's where Honor's Flight steps in. Through donations and volunteers, the veterans are taken back to see the memorial dedicated to them.
"We change their lives at the end of their lives," Marsh said. "Ninety-nine percent of these veterans say it is the best experience of their lives."
Its the least they can do, Marsh said.
"This is nothing when you think of what they did for us – They saved the word for us," she said.
The veterans who fly out of Kern County get special treatment.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy took the latest group to fly out of Bakersfield to the House floor, where they were introduced to the House leadership. Then to lunch.
"Our Honor Flight, because of Kevin McCarthy, gets so much more than the other guys," Marsh said.
The veterans fly for free, courtesy Honors Flight, but each veterans travelling to Washington must have a guardian, who must pay his or her own way.
It costs approximately $1200 to fly a veteran and $1500 to fly a guardian back to Washington.