Written by Devon Boen
No World War II veteran can forget their experience in the military, but often they do not have the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., to witness all the incredible memorials erected in their honor.
Fortunately for a couple of area residents, a program called Big Sky Honor flights made a trip to the nation’s capital a reality.
On the program’s website, it states it gives veterans, specifically those of WWII, the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., at no cost to visit multiple memorials. What started out as a small endeavor in 2005 has turned into a large organization and had sent over 63,000 veterans to D.C. by the end of 2011.
Bernard Wanderaas and Eddie Olson have known each other since they were children, both growing up in Vida. They were childhood friends, lived together for a period of time in high school, served together in WWII, and are now neighbors.
They were just recently awarded the opportunity to spend some more time together in Washington, D.C. The two left early Sunday morning, Sept. 23, from Billings and returned late Monday night, Sept. 24.
Olsen served in the Army for two years starting in July 1944 and was stationed in several countries overseas, including France and Germany. He said being a veteran was a large part of his identity and he always hoped he’d have the opportunity to see the memorials.
The Honor Flight was his first trip to the nation’s capital and his first time on a large plane in many years. He said the experience was very exciting and he enjoyed the WWII Memorial the most because of its expansiveness. Olsen said he also enjoyed the memorial dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Wanderaas, who served in the tail-end of the war from shortly after D-Day in June 1944 to June 1946, was in awe of the beautiful memorials he had the chance to see while on the trip.
He said the World War II memorial was extremely elaborate and the Arlington Cemetery was very enjoyable. They also went to a memorial for the Korean War, one for veterans of World War I and the Lincoln Memorial, which Wanderaas described as very impressive.
When asked what his favorite part of the trip was, Wanderaas praised the quality of the memorials.
“I was just amazed that somebody was able to lay things out in such a way so that anyone who came there would be impressed at everything that happened,” Wanderaas said.