Honor Flight: Men and Women Get Chance

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  • Local WWII vets fly to Washington, D.C. to see memorial. Video by wtmj.com

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MILWAUKEE - It was early Sunday morning at Mitchell International Airport, when more than 300 World War II veterans were about to board a life changing experience.

A 747 waited as hundreds boarded. Their destination: Washington D.C.

It was part of the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight program that flies elderly and sick veterans to the memorials they helped inspire, all free of charge.

"We''re resolved to address the waiting list that we have. There are so many of these hero's that want to go see their memorials," said Joe Dean, president of Wisconsin's Stars and Stripes Honor Flight program.

After they landed in D.C., dozens of strangers gathered at Dulles International Airport to a heroes' welcome. And the veterans felt it.

"Right now it's pulling tears from my eyes. I never expected this," said Milwaukee veteran Leon Whittaker

They were emotional moments that weren't just for the men of the war.

We tagged along with Irene Pietrowski and Mary Buerger also of Milwaukee. Both served in the war as clerks. Irene in San Diego. Mary in Washington D.C.

Sunday both spent time at Arlington National Cemetery and the tomb of the unknown soldier.

 It was just one stop on a packed tour of the city.

"It's just a big thrill to be here," said Buerger.

It's a thrill because they know so many more are waiting to be here. That's why they sent in their application early.

"I did it right away. And I understand there's 500 on waiting list," said Pietrowski.

Veteran Bill Seidel of Racine knows what it's like to wait.

Three years ago he suffered a stroke right before he got to the World War II Memorial.

They transported him to a nearby hospital and three years later he's back and loving every minute of it.

"This is fabulous. I can't get over it. I can't explain it. It's heart warming," he said with a giant smile.

But still more wait and unfortunately many die. In fact, every day, 900 die in Wisconsin, according the Honor Flight organization.

That's one reason why these veterans both men and women are so grateful they got their chance.

"This is so overwhelming," said Buerger.