Day Two: Vets visited White House, Memorials

The veterans began their big day early, many arriving at the dinning room for breakfast at 5:45 a.m. They boarded the bus for their visit to the White House at 7:45 a.m., in route the bus was stopped a mile before the White House for a mandatory security screening and searching. They entered the grounds of the White House at precisely 9 a.m.

The secret service agents who processed the veterans at the White House were cordial, informative, friendly and accommodating. A number of the veterans were provided a glimpse of the White House kitchen, which they discovered was smaller than the kitchen at the Herkimer VFW Post. The White House pastry chef explained that her baking facility is smaller than your average home kitchen. A few of the veterans met the White House florist as she exited the elevator which was overflowing with live flowers. Dressed in all black and in bullet proof garments one of the roof top sharp shooters going on duty shared an elevator with a few of the veterans.

While on the tour of the White House the veterans were shown the charred stone remains from when the British set fire to the White House during the War of 1812. One of the veterans, William Sager, was introduced to the first family's two Scottish Terriers who were being brought out for their midmorning constitutional.

After finishing the White House tour the veterans stopped by the White House Visitors Center and were able to purchase souvenirs. The veterans boarded the bus and made their way to the boat for the luncheon cruise on the Potomac.

The veterans enjoyed a three-course luncheon and a narrated description of the Washington shore line. The veterans were able to see a number of the D.C. monuments from the 300-foot glass enclosed boat.

While on the boat a passengers, retired United States Air Force Major General Jacques Paul Klein, a former ambassador and now special representative of the secretary-general and coordinator of the United Nations operations in Liberia, asked if he could address the veterans. The Major-General explained to the veterans that he was born in a small village in France in 1939 and lived through the German occupation as a young boy, and he vividly remembers how American troops liberated his village. With his voice breaking, he thanked them for their service to this country during World War II and explained that he and his family owed them a tremendous debt of gratitude which he could never repay. He said he owed his life to the American servicemen, and would consider it an honor if he could have his photo taken with them. Later it would be discovered that one of our Herkimer County veterans was one of the servicemen who had liberated the Major-General's village.

After the boat tour the veterans made their way to the Memorial erected in their honor. Greeting the veterans at the National World War II Memorial were a reporter and two newspaper photographers. A large wreath, the committee had a local florist deliver with a ribbon bearing the group's name was waiting for the veterans at the Memorial. The veterans walked into the Memorial as a group and gathered for a group photo in front of the New York pillar. While the group was being arranged for the group photo a number of people visiting the Memorial stopped and watched. After the group photo was taken by the newspaper photographers, the large crowd which had gathered by this point began a spontaneous round of applauds and cheers. Then the crowd started to help the trip escorts by collecting the veterans' cameras to take the group photo with the veterans cameras for them. The veterans were not only patient during the photo taking but were slightly embarrassed by all the attention being lavished upon them. The attention they received at the Memorial and throughout the trip was the rule and not the exception.

Some of the veterans toured the Memorial in small groups while others chose to view it on their own. World War II veterans from other parts of the country that happened to be visiting the Memorial this day would stop and chat and exchange memories with our veterans. The producer of the World War II PBS film documentary, Glenn Marcus, who happened to be visiting the Memorial saw our veterans and stopped to visit with them.

When the veterans began to board the bus to leave the Memorial, Park Ranger Lowell Fry asked each of our veterans to personally sign the Memorial registry, available only for those World War II veterans who have visited the Memorial.

Following their visit to the Memorial a small group of the veterans, 24 to be exact, went to the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, which depicts the flag raising at Iwo Jima. A special wreath, donated by Suzanne DeLude, owner of Flowers by Suzanne, that was brought from New York by the veterans was placed at the base of the Monument by former Marines, George Farrington and Mathew Bialock, both Iwo Jima survivors, and three fellow Marines John Kerzic, Theodore Czech, and Harold Waite. The timeless significance and beauty of the iconic monument left all in attendance silenced in respect.

After the wreath laying at the Marine Corps War Memorial, the veterans gathered for a wonderful dinner and planned for the twilight monument tour to follow. Mr. Joshua Albert, legislative aide to Senator, Hillary R. Clinton, spoke to the veterans about the Federal Effort to protect and enhance Veteran's benefits.

The "Twilight Tour of the Monuments" took the group all around Washington and Arlington, to view the spectacular Monuments bathed in lights. Our tour guide, Jurgen Rathjen, who had guided the first group of veterans that had came down to the Monument in September of last year, regaled the veterans with interesting Washington history and brought them to all the illuminated monuments. The tour concluded at 9:45 p.m. and the veterans retired for the evening looking forwarding to returning home and the Welcome Home Dinner at the Herkimer VFW.

Trip escorts Dr. Gregory O'Keefe and Dan Pollock also contributed to this diary.

AT THE WWII MEMORIAL - Veterans from Herkimer County pose in front of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Bystanders cheered the group and used the veterans' cameras to take photographs for them.
AT THE WWII MEMORIAL - Veterans from Herkimer
County pose in front of the World War II Memorial in
Washington, D.C., on Friday. Bystanders cheered the
group and used the veterans' cameras to take photographs
for them.

Click Here to Return to the News Page