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World War II veteran Harry Bigler will return from a trip to Washington, D.C., Sunday as part of the Honor Flight Network. Bigler got to see the World War II memorial and other notable attractions. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
World War II veteran Harry Bigler got his first glimpse of the nation’s capital Thursday.
Bigler flew into Washington, D.C., early Thursday morning with a group of about 50 veterans for a chance to visit their own memorial as part of the Honor Flight Network.
“I’ve only been east of the
Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit that aims to get veterans to Washington, D.C., so they can visit their respective memorials and see the capitol. According to its website, the network is currently focused on making sure World War II veterans get priority since it is estimated that the nation loses 800 World War II veterans a day.
“It’s an opportunity to experience something I’d probably never get to do myself,” Bigler said. “I think just the thought of going to our nation’s capital, where everything is that makes up our country, is something.”
Bigler served in the United States Army Air Forces, though he never saw action in the war. He learned about the Honor Flight Network at the Veterans Affairs office in La Grande and got an application from Veterans Service Officer Byron Whipple.
One of the things that drew Bigler to the program was the fact that it’s not paid for with taxpayer money but is still free to veterans. The program is paid for by donations and covers the cost of travel, lodging and meals.
“It’s really nice when you think about it,” Bigler said. “They pay for everything.”
Whipple said the program has been operating out of Eastern Oregon since at least 2010.
“It’s a great experience for these gentlemen and ladies,” he said. “You’d be surprised at the number of veterans in La Grande who were born and raised here, who only left to go to war.”
Whipple estimated that the Eastern Oregon hub for Honor Flight has sent about 20 veterans in the past three years. Upon talking to veterans when they return, he said it’s a positive experience for them.
“These people wondered about airmen, sailors, men they served with for 65 years,” Whipple said. “There’s some closure just to go.”