The nation may honor its veterans on Nov. 11, but one man honors them all year round by flying World War II veterans to the new National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., free of charge.
"This is without question the most noble, most honorable thing that I've ever done with my life," Earl Morse said.
Morse, a physician's assistant with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Springfield, Ohio, came up with the idea while talking to a patient.
When Morse asked a veteran if he would want to take the trip, he wasn't prepared for the response he received.
"I was ready for him to say 'yeah' or 'no' or 'let me check with my wife,'" Morse said. "I wasn't ready for him to start crying. And that's when I felt we were on to something."
So he started the group Honor Flight two years ago by flying 12 veterans to Washington on a private plane. Soon he was getting hundreds of applications. His group expanded and now flies commercial with trips funded through donations.
"When … you are escorting them through the airport and you see all these people standing up and clapping for them, it still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck and on my arms because I know how much it means to them to be recognized," Morse said.
Visit Brings 'Bounce' to Their Step
It is a long trip for these vets, with some traveling in wheelchairs to see the memorial 60 years after the war.
Morse grew up in an Air Force family and developed a deep appreciation for the sacrifice veterans make. His father served for more than two decades, including a tour in Vietnam.
Morse became an Air Force captain and served for 20 years, and now his son is enlisted.
He said there is a noticeable transformation in veterans' spirits while at the memorial.
"As the day goes by ... there's more of a bounce in their step," Morse said.
"It is an experience I will long remember," World War II veteran Al Dunn said.
When the trip ended 16 hours later, the daughter of one of the veterans said, "Thank you so much for letting him have this opportunity."
Morse said that anyone can join in the effort to honor World War II veterans.
"Anybody out there can stop a 70- or 80-year-old in the supermarket and ask them, 'Are you a WWII veteran?' And if they say 'yeah' just thank them for what they've done, for the blessings and the liberty that we enjoy," he said. "They'll remember that for the rest of their lives.
"In another five to 10 years they'll be gone, these opportunities are fading rapidly," he said. "This is their last hurrah."