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John Drummond of Ninety-Six tips his hat to the crowd as he arrives at Reagan National Airport.
A decorated P-47 pilot who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Drummond spent 10 months as a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down near Normandy, France, in July 1944. Liberated in May 1945, Drummond left the service with numerous citations and returned to South Carolina. He served in the General Assembly from 1965 to 2008, acting as president pro tempore of the state Senate from 1996 to 2001. Remarking on his Honor Flight experience, the 93-year-old told a group of reporters, “If I don’t live another day, this will be the most wonderful day of my life.”
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Heyward Cuffie enters the World War II Memorial for the first time. The 88-year-old from Darlington was a member of the U.S. Army’s 92nd Infantry Division, commonly referred to as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” In 1944, Cuffie’s regiment was shipped to the front lines in Italy, where they became the first black soldiers allowed to engage in combat. The fighting was fierce.
“We were down there in the Po Valley and had the Germans looking right down on us,” he says. “Some of those shells that blew up would leave a hole big enough to swallow four cars.”
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Navy veteran George Epting observes a moment of silence at the World War II Memorial. The 89-year-old from Newberry enlisted in the service at age 17 and served aboard a variety of ships during the war, patrolling the waters of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Epting was overwhelmed by the reception the veterans received. “It is an honor,” he says. “[The war] was so long ago you assume people forget.”
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James Allen of Aiken is joined by his son Richard as they tour the World War II Memorial. During the war, the senior Allen was a member of the U.S. Army’s 104th Infantry Division, a unit that played a pivotal role driving German forces out of France and Belgium.
“This trip today is probably the most joyous occasion for me since Paris,” says Allen, who celebrated in the streets of the French capital the day Germany surrendered. “To be here with all of my fellow vets almost makes me feel like a 19-year-old kid again.”
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Thomas Harrison Jr. of Orangeburg is welcomed home from the Honor Flight by a fellow veteran at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. At 17, Harrison volunteered for service and joined the Army Air Forces. He became a trained gunner on B-24 aircraft and remembers coming into constant contact with the Japanese. “It was a kind of hairy experience, you could say,” he recalls. The visit to the World War II Memorial struck a deep chord with the 86-year-old. “It’s very humbling if you remember what it represents. I’m so glad I came.”
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Pictured, left to right: Mike Couick, CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, World War II veteran Wilson Clinton of Lancaster and Courtney Titus, a legislative aide for U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. As a member of the Army quartermaster corps, Clinton spent the majority of his service in the Philippines, supplying American troops with munitions and fuel.
“Being with all my fellow vets has meant more than I ever imagined,” says Clinton, now 87. “It makes you feel like you could put on your uniform again.”
On Sept. 26, Honor Flight of South Carolina flew 85 World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., for a day-long tour of the National World War II Memorial and other monuments. The flight was the second trip this year sponsored by 19 electric cooperatives, and the veterans received a warm welcome at every stop of the tour.