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Thank veterans while you still can

Memorial Day is just around the corner.

For some it means a three-day weekend to spend time with family and friends.

For many Boulder City residents it means it’s time for barbecue as the 10th annual Best Dam Barbecue festival is held in Bicentennial and Wilbur Square parks.

But the true purpose of the holiday will be observed Sunday and Monday with ceremonies to honor those who gave their lives in service to this country.

Although the exact origin of the Memorial Day is debated, it was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. It became a federal holiday observed on the last Monday in May in 1971 by Congress’ National Holiday Act, according to the website usmemorialday.org.

And while it is important to honor those who served and the principles they fought and died for, I think the folks at the Honor Flight Network have the right idea: Recognize veterans’ service and sacrifices while they are alive and able to receive our thanks.

For now, the group concentrates its efforts on World War II veterans, flying them to Washington, D.C., — at no cost — to see the memorial built in their honor.

“We do this to recognize and honor the sacrifices our veterans made,” said Belinda Morse of Boulder City, chairman of the board and flight director of Honor Flight Southern Nevada.

Most of those veterans didn’t get any type of thanks or recognition when they came home from the war, she said. Nor do they have the ability to get to the memorial, which was completed in 2005.

“We make that possible,” she said.

A group from Southern Nevada, including six Boulder City residents, flew to Washington in late April. There were 85 people on the trip, including 50 veterans, their guardians and two staff members.

“It was the third greatest event in my life after getting married and my daughter being born,” said Boulder City resident Fred Leonard, who was part of the group.

Leonard, who was a Navy pilot during World War II and lost one-third of the squadron he was in, said the memorial for those who served in that war was the most memorable part of the trip.

“It’s why we went,” he said.

Making the visit even more special was an appearance by former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, who was instrumental in getting the memorial built.

According to Morse, hundreds of people turn out whenever an Honor Flight group visits. “They are just there to say thank you to the veterans,” she said.

While in the city, the group visited numerous other memorials, including Arlington National Cemetery.

“We had the most wonderful reception wherever we went,” Leonard said.

“It strikes you,” said Boulder City resident Melvin Dunaway, who also was part of the group. “It sets you back a bit on your heels. It means all these people are dead.”

Dunaway served in the Navy during the war and participated in numerous invasions in the Pacific.

The biggest challenge, according to Morse, is making everything happen smoothly and coordinating visits to the sites.

But all the hard work is worth it, she said, nothing that Leonard called her after the trip and said it restored his faith in younger generations.

Leonard said it is important that other World War II veterans get in touch with the Honor Flight Network so they can make the trip. And quickly, noting that 1,700 WWII veterans are dying each day.

The next Honor Flight out of Southern Nevada is scheduled for Oct. 3-5. Veterans who are interested in participating should visit honorflightsouthernnevada.org or call 702-749-5912.

And that’s the point. The trip is for the living. Memorial Day is an important holiday, but wouldn’t it be nicer if we could pay tribute to our veterans when they know how much we care?

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