Frank Basler was a newly trained U.S. Army tank driver when he took his first and last trip through the nation's capital 64 years ago.
It was 1944, and the then 23-year-old was a passenger on a troop train making a seven-day trip from Camp Cooke in California to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, where his unit would prepare to depart for Europe to fight in World War II.
Mr. Basler, now 87, recalled how it was pitch-black outside when the rail car made its pass through Washington. It didn't stop, so Mr. Basler said he would have missed even a glimpse of the city had it not been for the bellows of fellow soldiers: "There's Washington!"
Today Mr. Basler is set to make a second trip to Washington, and this time, he plans to stay long enough to see the sites.
The Sylvania resident is among 29 World War II veterans from northwest Ohio who are to depart this morning on a charter jet from Toledo Express Airport for an all-expenses-paid day trip to see the capital and its war memorials.
The journey is the first organized by the new northwest Ohio chapter of the Honor Flight Network, which has sponsored trips for more than 5,000 veterans since its 2005 inception.
The charity is in a "race against the clock" to ensure that as many aging veterans as possible see the recently built National World War II Memorial on the National Mall. The memorial, complete with a fountain, towering arches, a curving Freedom Wall, and 56 granite pillars, opened in 2004 as a tribute to the 16 million veterans of the war and the more than 400,000 U.S. troops who died.
The trip also will mark the first time since the war that George Guest of Rossford has visited the capital. Mr. Guest was in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1944 when his convoy guard ship maneuvered the Potomac River to dock in Washington for inspection before heading out to the North Atlantic.
Now 83 and widowed, as is Mr. Basler, Mr. Guest said he's eager to see the memorials that have been built in veterans' honor.
"Five to 10 years from now there won't be anybody left, so I think this is a great thing for us," said Mr. Basler, a former Lucas County commander of the American Legion whose brother, Jim Guest, a 20-year-old U.S. Army Air Force pilot, died during the war.
Slightly more than 2.6 million U.S. World War II veterans are living, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 1,000 die each day.
The Honor Flight trips for veterans are funded entirely through donations. The trips also carry guardians who assist the older men and women and who pay their own way, about $350.
Honor Flight Northwest Ohio has yet to schedule any flights after today's trip, spokesman Jim Tichy said.
"Ideally we would like to do a flight a month, but it all depends on funding," he said. "Right now we have about 225 on our waiting list - and that's just northwest Ohio."
The veterans have a full day ahead. Their itinerary spans
6:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. and begins and ends at Grand Aire at Toledo Express. Once in Washington they will visit the World War II, Korean, Vietnam, and Iwo Jima memorials, as well as Arlington National Cemetery.
They have lunch dates with former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R., Kansas), himself a World War II veteran, and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who first championed the idea for a World War II memorial in the late 1980s at the suggestion of the late Roger Durbin, a Berkey veteran.
Mr. Basler's daughter, Janis Rockwell, will accompany the group as a guardian. She said her father never talked much about his war experiences until recently. He has wanted to see the World War II memorial since it opened, but the cost of a trip was prohibitive until now.
"It was something that he was hoping he would live long enough to see," Mrs. Rockwell said.
Area veterans had to wait for accommodations with Honor Flight's other "hubs" before the northwest Ohio chapter opened this year.
Last July a group of 130 Defiance-area veterans made an Honor Flight trip from Toledo Express using more than $60,000 in donations raised by a Defiance VFW post.
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