They've been called the greatest generation. The more than 16 million Americans who fought and won World War II.
When they returned from the war, they never asked for honors. So by the time the World War II memorial finally opened in 2004, most veterans had passed away. Of those still with us, few thought they'd ever make it to the memorial in Washington.
But there's a program that wants to change that. It's called Honor Flight and they have one mission: To fly as many veterans to see their memorial as possible...for free.
Word of the program eventually found its way to 83 year-old Weyman Owens.
When the United States entered into the war, Weyman wanted to join but his parents wouldn't let him. So he waited for the draft and at 18, he was called into service. He joined the navy and eventually found himself in the Central Pacific, working in the engine room of the U.S.S. Fall River. "I went to the Kwajalein islands. That's where we did two atomic bomb tests. I was onboard for both tests," he recalls. "The first was dropped onto a fleet of ships, the next was blown up from beneath them."
After the tests, Weyman was sent to Japan where he witnessed the destruction left behind from the nuclear strikes at Hiroshima. "It was hell," he said. "I had a little Japanese camera and took a lots of pictures. At least a mile from where they dropped that thing, buildings made of wrought iron were just twisted and torn to pieces. A church, torn all to pieces. Everything just blown to pieces. You don't want to see that. You don't want to see anything like that. Nothing I've ever seen compares to that."
When Weyman returned home, he tried to keep the past - well - in the past. Then one day his friend gave him information about Honor Flight. But Weyman didn't want to go. The memories from overseas still haunted him to this day. "I took it home but I didn't call. I said I don't want to go. Too many memories." But his family was persistent and he finally agreed to go.
He was accepted onto a flight out of Columbus, Georgia with a group of 90 other veterans. The September flight was one of much anticipation, and a little fear. "I need to accept it. I think I'm old enough, man enough, seen enough and done enough that I can go."
Once in DC, he silently made his way around the memorial, finally stopping at its wall of stars. He paused to remember the 448,000 who died in the war and the countless others for whom the memorial was built too late. And in the shadow of the wall that honors the fallen, the ghosts of the past were silenced and the weight of that moment sunk in. "I didn't go in to service to have a memorial. I went in for something else, not a memorial. But its beautiful, it's worthwhile, and it's something to be proud of."
Just when he thought his day couldn't be any better, a chance encounter. 82 year-old Charles Harmon just happened to be in DC, with an honor flight group from Oklahoma. And there, near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, two former comrades caught up on the years that had passed.
"I never dreamed that I would run into this fellow. I was proud to see him. More than proud to see him!" Weyman said as he reflected back on the day. "I enjoyed the trip. I loved the trip. If I went tonight, I have a lot to be thankful for."
Click here to learn more about Honor Flight.
Watch 80 year-old World War II Army Veteran Chris Maurer react as he sees the memorial for the first time.