Honor Flight Austin: WWII veterans visit memorial in D.C.

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and Photojournalists BRICE SMITH, KENNETH NULL and ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on June 13, 2012 at 9:41 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 14 at 7:23 AM

AUSTIN -- World War II would change the world forever, but not all its heroes returned to ticker tape parades and scenes like the storybook picture of homecoming we all know so well.

"By the time I got back, the 'hoorah-rah' of the troops coming home after the war was all over with," 86-year-old veteran Vic Mathias told KVUE at his Austin home on Monday.

Mathias' 66th Infantry Black Panthers Division returned well after the war's end, and the young soldier's welcome home was decidedly a bit more utilitarian.

"There were girls and ladies there with milk," recalled Mathias with a grin. "Fresh milk, because we hadn't had a drink of fresh milk since we left a year or two ago."

In fact, it would be almost 60 years before a national memorial stood in their honor at the nation's capitol.

Now in their 80s and 90s, 25 Central Texas veterans boarded Austin's first Honor Flight Tuesday morning at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. After landing in Washington, D.C. Tuesday afternoon, the memorial tour began Wednesday morning.

"It's a magnificent piece of work," Mathias said Wednesday. "Really, really great to be able to come here with this group of people."

"It is a great memorial, and I'm glad it was done," said Arnold Mathias, Vic's older brother, who served in a tank division before a direct hit sent him home with relatively minor injuries.

"I'm more interested in people than I am of things," said Arnold, who's now approaching 90 years old. "I am happy to be here and impressed with many of my colleagues, all of whom are close to the same age as I am. You have to be to do World War II."

As the veterans gathered for "Taps" under the granite pillar memorializing those from Texas, thoughts turned to the many who have gone before.

"Well I'm thinking off all the guys that can't be here, that are not here and won't ever be here except in memory," said veteran Jesse Farmer.

As the 25 posed for pictures in front of the wall of gold stars representing the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives in World War II, it was a moment of triumph both for the veterans and those who struggled to send them on a final mission of thanks.

For Honor Flight Austin's maiden flight, it was simply, "Mission accomplished."

To find out how to donate, volunteer or sign up for Honor Flight Austin, CLICK HERE.

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