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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published May 09 2011

Dalrymple: Honor Flight an inspiring experience

BISMARCK - A Pearl Harbor survivor kissed me on the cheek Saturday night. Other veterans I had the privilege to meet while reporting on the Rough Rider Honor Flight thanked me for being there and wanted to take their picture with me.

It was incredibly touching, but I didn’t deserve their gratitude.

All I did was follow the 124 World War II veterans around for two days with my camera and ask silly questions. And I got paid to do it.

Those guys (and a few gals) gave me the freedoms I enjoy today.

But I don’t think I had ever so much as said thank you to any of them.

My grandfather, Dan Dalrymple, is a World War II veteran, but I can’t tell you much more than that. (No relation to the governor, by the way.)

My lack of knowledge is in part because my grandfather died more than 30 years ago, and I never had the opportunity to meet him. But it’s mainly because I have never tried to find out more.

Once while visiting my Dalrymple relatives over Memorial Day in Kansas, where my grandparents are buried, a relative brought us all matching American flag T-shirts.

I chose not to wear mine because I thought it’d be dorky to be dressed alike.

Today I’d wear it with pride.

Today I want to find out everything I can about my grandfather’s military service and get him registered at the World War II Memorial.

Spending a brief amount of time with these veterans and experiencing the memorial with them made me realize how much I take for granted.

And how little I really know about what their generation did for me.

On Sunday, I visited for the first time North Dakota’s veteran memorial in Bismarck.

As I scanned the names of victims from the different wars, the panels filled with names of World War II victims just kept going. And going.

I counted more than 2,500 names of local heroes.

The Honor Flights were started to give World War II veterans a chance to see the memorial built in their honor.

But the impact of the flights is even greater.

Every escort, volunteer, medical team member and reporter who has taken one of the flights has no doubt had an experience similar to mine.

Even the flight attendants who only interacted with the veterans on the plane said it was the highlight of their careers.

Students cheered and applauded when they saw the veterans in Washington, and even more thanked them for their service when they returned.

Over and over, the sons and daughters of the World War II veterans told me the Honor Flight was the best two days they’d spent with their parent. Many heard stories they’d never heard before. You could tell they were never more proud of their parents.

Beth Bouley of Grand Forks, one of the organizers of this trip, knew little about her father’s World War II service until she went with him on an Honor Flight. She was so inspired she ended up getting involved with the program and participated in seven flights. Bouley now knows so much about history she calls herself a World War II junkie.

North Dakota’s 11th Honor Flight is expected to be the last. The state had 5,105 World War II veterans in 2009, and that figure will be unquestionably lower when the 2010 census survey is available.

But thanks to the Honor Flights, there are hundreds in the state with new inspiration to preserve their legacy.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590