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Honor Flight: The Greatest Generation

“We went and did our job, didn’t look for any honors or anything.”

A story of sacrifice and support unfolding a day after a group of local veterans touched down in the nation’s capital.

Many of the people on board Tuesday’s Mid-Michigan Honor Flight fought in World War II, including a group of friends from Cheboygan.

In this look back at the flight’s warm welcome, the two have quite a tale to tell.

“You never leave the war. It’s in your body. I never talked about it until two years ago with my family or anybody.”

Brutal, unkind and unrelenting.

The Second World War brought three continents to the brink of collapse.

The draft board called Wayne Peterhans’ number in January of 1944.

He witnessed the horrors of war aboard the thousand-ship fleet destined to invade the Philippines, furthering the US’ island hopping strategy, and months later, delivered a message that would echo in eternity.

“I was at the front lines as the teletype operator sending the p-38’s,” recalls Peterhans. “As soon as the war was over, the surrender came back to my teletype and I sent it to NBC in New York… It was on a big long sheet of paper probably about 20 feet long off my machine.”

Winston Churchill once said, “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.”

Four years of tough fighting had taken their toll; more than 400,000 Americans gave their lives.

Those who survived, shipped off to a foreign land then back stateside, often without so much as a thank you.

A thank you that came Tuesday.  

For the dozens of veterans riding along on mission seven of the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight, this moment was years, even decades in the making.

Army veteran Warren Meyer remembers a turning point in his career.

“The Bulge was about ready to pop,” says Meyer, describing that pivotal moment in the war’s history. “They just took everybody. We were in the Army Air Corps. It didn’t make a difference, give you a rifle and you were an army man.”

The sergeant, now 91, may have left the battlefield—but still carries the war, in his back pocket.

“Could you have seen yourself coming to these monuments 70 years later?”

“No, no, no, I never dreamt all of this would be happening,” says Sgt. Meyer, showing us the discharge card, perfectly preserved in his wallet for well-over half a century.

“It was beautiful, I really appreciate all the handshakes and the pictures,” says Sgt. Peterhans, glowingly. “It was just a great wonderful day to be with all my friends… This is a great trip and we’ve been honored all the way.”

A true honor, and one these brave men and women accepted with stunned silence, smile and inspiring humility.

“I guess I’m like a lot of other soldiers who entered the service you just don’t talk about it,” relates Sgt. Meyer. “I never started talking about anything until maybe a few years ago. I’m 91.”

“Vets are resilient and humble,” says Tricia Donegan, director of the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight. “When we get off this plane they tell me, Tricia, I got off this plane as a private but now I feel like a five star general.”

No matter where the tide of war takes them or leaves them, take this as proof: it’s never too late to say thank you.

“They got a collective hug from America,” continues Donegan. “That’s why we’re here and that’s why we do what we do.”