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Greendale veterans help honor peers

Program flies veterans to capital, monuments

Nov. 27, 2012

Greendale - World War II veterans Ed Marus and Kenneth Degnan got the flight of their lives last year when they were flown, all expenses paid, to Washington, D.C. to visit war memorials.

The trip was sponsored by the Wisconsin branch of the national Stars and Stripes Honor Flight program, which sends World War II veterans to see the memorials at the nation's capital. The program has sent over 81,000 veterans to the monuments and was the subject of the documentary "Honor Flight: One Last Mission," which will be screened across Wisconsin on Dec. 5, 6 and 7 at several Marcus Theaters.

Both residents discovered the program by chance. Marus was surprised when he got the letter saying he would go after his daughter secretly signed him up. Degnan met a stranger in a clinic who gave him the application. He sent it off and forgot about it until he got the letter saying he would go in October.

The flight and visit aren't the only way the program honors veterans. The veterans are served breakfast provided by local volunteers and are seen off by a band of live bagpipers, singers dressed in WWII-era style, a barber shop quartet and Dirk Debbink, retired vice admiral of the naval reserve.

Each honor flight participant is sent to the capital with a guardian. The guardian is a volunteer who acts as a tour guide for the veteran, setting up everything, including the mail call. The mail call is made of notes from family and friends, collected by the guardian, to be given to the veteran.

Degnan's guardian not only collected all the notes, but created a photo book of his trip complete with a photo of him receiving the notes.

"Here I am reading mine," Degnan said. "I'm half in tears because the letters are from all of my family."

Marus, who flew in April 2011 and served in the Aleutian Islands, was so impressed by the work of Stars and Stripes he decided to volunteer.

At the ripe age of 90, he has now seen eight flights come and go since he started.

"I have a distinction," Marus said. "Out of all the volunteers I'm the oldest."

Degnan graduated high school in 1944 and immediately volunteered for the army air corps. While he was in training, the war ended in Germany. He was transferred around and was ready to repair airplanes when the war ended in Japan. Despite signing up immediately after high school, Degnan never left the United States for war.

"Until this situation happened, I never felt that I did anything special or anything like that," he said. "Since this program came along I feel like maybe I did do my part."

To volunteer or become a guardian, go to starsandstripeshonorflight.org.

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