About 80 Arkansas veterans were cheered and applauded Saturday as they made their way into the World War II Memorial on Saturday under bright blue skies.
“It’s all right, son,” said a wistful Marvin Hill of Dierks.
The 98-year-old was the oldest of the Arkansas veterans participating in the Honor Flight that flew from Little Rock earlier Saturday morning for a daylong tour of the Washington, D.C., war memorials.
Hill, wearing a cowboy hat and boots, served in the Army in the Pacific theater and wondered why the Dutch East Indies was not included in the battlefields recognized in stone at the memorial.
“That was a rough one,” said Hill, who recalled the heat and having to sleep in his clothes in foxholes and on hard ground.
The Arkansas veterans were among seven Honor Flights that visited the WWII Memorial on Saturday. The veterans arrived not entirely sure that they would be granted access to the memorial due to the ongoing federal government shutdown.
On Tuesday, about 125 Iowa and Mississippi veterans were initially blocked from entering but allowed in with the help of several members of Congress. The National Park Service, which has closed parks across the country, is now allowing Honor Flight participants entry at the World War II Memorial. Still, lawmakers from visiting states are taking no chances, and with Congress in session this weekend, are checking in with the Honor Flights.
Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., met the Arkansas veterans at Reagan National Airport — where a band struck up tunes from the WWII era. They traveled with them by bus to the memorial, escorted by members of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group.
Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, greeted the buses at the World War II Memorial — helping to unload wheelchairs and walkers — and shaking hands with most of the veterans as they disembarked.
“This is just a way to say thank you. I’m glad the whole delegation is out here,” Pryor said.
Dozens of volunteers and tourists were also on hand, applauding and thanking the veterans as they entered the memorial.
Carl Rogers, 91, of Romance, held court with a group of young tourists from San Diego, Calif., who surrounded him as he told them stories of his time in the Army so long ago.
Rogers, now bald, pulled a photograph from his wallet showing off a full head of hair from back in the day. After the war ended, Rogers said, “I married my sweetheart.”
Herman Wright, 89, of Camden, said he had seen the memorial on television but that the small screen didn’t do it justice.
“It’s hard to beat being right here. I never thought I’d get the chance,” said Wright, a “Buffalo Soldier” who served in combat in Italy as a member of the 92nd Infantry Division.