By Lesley Weidenbener
World War II veterans are dying at a rate of more than 600 per day.
That's not a surprise. The younger of these former soldiers are in their mid-80s. Many are in their 90s.
Therefore, organizations across the country are working feverishly to document the stories of these men and women, trying to pull every bit of memory from them so that generations to come can understand the importance of the war and the soldiers who fought it.
Other groups - including the Indy Honor Flight - are seeking to give back to those veterans. The Indy Honor Flight takes WWII veterans to Washington D.C. to see the memorial created in their honor.
Never has that mission become more poignant than last week, when Warren Perney of Indianapolis died - just five days after taking his trip to the National World War II Memorial. He was 92 and served as a medic in the war. He landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and earned a Bronze Star. Still, like thousands of other WWII vets, he had never seen the memorial, which opened in 2004 on the National Mall.
On Sept. 7, he had his chance. He boarded the Indy Honor Flight plane with 69 other veterans and headed to D.C. Before he left, he told WTHR that he was excited for the opportunity.
"I saw the real thing," he told the station in a live interview. "But I haven't seen the memorial and I would like to."
Five day later, he was gone.
His wife, Jean Perney, told WTHR after the trip the timing. It was "something he wanted to do, and he did it," she said.
Perney's death only reinforces the mission of Indy Honor Flight, which is funded with donations and organized by volunteers.
The day also includes stops at Arlington Cemetery and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The veterans receive notes of thanks from family and friends. They come home to a welcome party at the airport. It's a day meant to ensure the veteran knows his or her service is remembered and appreciated.
After Perney's death, the Indy Honor Flight posted this about him on its Facebook page.
"He left us knowing he was a Hero who was loved by his country. It was truly our honor to have spent the day with him as he visited his Memorial on September 7th. and was then welcomed home as the Hero he was... and always will be."
But it's not just the veterans who benefit from the trip. Each veteran is assigned a volunteer who works to ensure the day goes smoothly. The relationships between those volunteers and the veterans often grow into more than just a one-day assignment.
John Cimasko has gone on the trip assigned to help one of the veterans. The experience was so special, he took on the role of coordinating volunteers for the Sept. 7 event and made his third trip to Washington with veterans.
Before he left, Cimasko told TheStatehouseFile.com that "these men and women can never be paid back for what they did but that doesn't mean we can't try to pay them back in some way."
"I think that it's important again that we always remember what they did," he said. "They went halfway across the world to save the world. And that's no small task."
Warren Perney died knowing his service was appreciated and the Indy Honor Flight should be thanked - and supported - for making that happen.
Lesley Weidenbener is the executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.