Brothers take in war memorials
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The clouds break a little and the sun comes out just as three brothers are stepping off their bus.
"It's gonna be warm," says Willis Haughey, the middle child at 90 years old.
Even though two of the three brothers — Willis and Ken Haughey — served in World War II, they have never been to this spot before.
The youngest, Roger Haughey hasn't either. He's 84, and was too young to serve after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He waited until the United States went into Korea.
Roger is still the most spry of the bunch. He's actually came along on this "honor flight" for central Illinois' World War II veterans as an escort for his brother Ken, who's 92. Willis is escorted by his son, Paul Haughey.
The older veterans are in wheelchairs while the younger two push from behind. They slowly make their way down a ramp, along a granite wall embedded with bronze plates molded into the scenes of World War II: men launching explosives and running into battles, guns in hand.
At the bottom of the ramp are fountains feeding a large, shallow pool. On the opposite end of the memorial is a wall, mounted by 4,048 gold stars, each one symbolizing 100 American casualties in World War II. Forming the perimeter of the huge oval are more than fifty towers, one for every state and U.S. territory that were part of the war.
The whole scene is flanked by two American icons: The white obelisk of the Washington Memorial across a field at one end and, to the other, the Lincoln Memorial's massive chamber across the Reflecting Pool.
The World War II memorial is illuminated by sunlight as they reach its center. This is the first time the two World War II veterans have seen any of it.
"Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Buna," Ken says as Roger pushes him past an area of the memorial paying tribute to the Pacific islands and the battles for which they acted as a stage. Ken points to each island name, inscribed into a wall.
"I don't know how you remember all of the islands like you do," says Paul, pushing Willis.
Ken explains that, in the Pacific theater, you had to. They were the landmarks that guided the soldiers.
"Otherwise, it's a big, flat ocean," Ken says.
Ken points to the last island inscribed in the wall.
"That was the big one that we didn't do," Ken says.
"No, we did that one," Willis says.
Willis started the war in England and Germany under General George Patton — and he's glad he was behind Patton, he says — before he was sent through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific Ocean.
Ken was in the Pacific for some of the war, in charge of a team of radiomen and signal men on a small ship, as the Navy hopped each island until they got to that big one on the other side.
When Ken and Willis left the service, they got on with their lives. Willis went to college and became a teacher, a coach and a bus driver. He eventually became a principal.
Ken left the service and went into a commodity business. He thinks he did pretty well for himself.
Both the men grew up in Bloomington. Willis lives in Watseka now, and Ken lives in Fort Wayne, Ind.
It wasn't until about 60 years after the war that a memorial in Washington opened to commemorate their service. They had never seen it until today.
It's all right, Ken thinks. Goofing around with his brothers is more fun, apparently. When he and Roger swap positions — Roger in the wheelchair and Ken pushing from behind — a tour guide lightly scolds them.
"This is more fun to push than it is to ride," he says.
Willis and Paul can't resist. They switch, too, and it's time for a race. Ken, the oldest, takes off with Roger before Paul is ready in the chair with Willis pushing.
"Whoa, whoa!" Willis says.
"Two years doesn't give you a head start!" Paul yells.
The tour guide steps over and stops them before they can really get going.