More than 800 World War II veterans from Middle Tennessee have visited the World War II Memorial in Washington through the Nashville Honor Flight program.
But since we are losing so many of these veterans, the final honor flight departed Wednesday on an emotional journey to the nation's capital.
The veterans are now in the 80s and 90s, but thanks to their heroic efforts seven decades ago, future generations can enjoy the freedoms we came very close to losing forever.
Those taking part in this final honor flight - some in wheelchairs - departed Nashville International Airport to a rousing patriotic send-off then arrived at Washington's Reagan International Airport to a hero's welcome.
They visited the memorial built to honor their bravery and the sacrifices of the 400,000 who died to help free a world from tyranny.
The World War II Memorial put them back in that time and place, and for veteran Carl Driver, that place was Iwo Jima.
"It was rough because they tried to sink our ship. They got lots of our ships before we hit the shore," he said.
Manual Ramirez, 90, remembers a cold December 1944 day as the Battle of the Bulge was raging.
"It looked like the Americans were being pushed out, so they called everybody to go re-enforce the Army," Ramirez said.
All the men were strangers when the honor flight began, and the stories they shared brought them closer together during the trip.
A memorial to another hard fought war in Korea was also part of the visit, as was Arlington National Cemetery.
Every memorial they visited brought tears to the eyes of the veterans and to those on hand to thank the veterans for their service.
Most moving of all were the children who approached the veterans to thank them for the freedoms they enjoy today.
There will be no more honor flights out of Nashville because the number of Midstate veterans is dwindling. For this trip, 95 seats were reserved, but just days before the flight, two World War II veterans scheduled for the trip passed away.
Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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