WWII veterans get chance to visit D.C.

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World War II veterans in Colorado can take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if they hustle.

Moffat and Routt county offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs are accepting applications from those World War II vets who want to attend the dedication of a national monument in their honor in Washington D.C., but can't afford it.

Ten vets may receive free airfare to attend the memorial. Other funds are available to assist vets with up to $1,000 in travel costs. Veterans have until the end of January to apply.

"I think local vets might be interested in going back (to Washington, D.C.) to see that," said Moffat County Veterans Affairs Service Officer Bill Harding. "We want to try to get as many of them there as possible. For some it might be hard to do financially."

The National WWII Memorial will be dedicated May 29 in a four-day event centered around the Memorial Day weekend. Congress approved the memorial in 1993 and construction began in 2001.

Nearly 60 years after World War II, veterans from that era are now well into their 70s and 80s. About 1,800 veterans die each day in America from old age or other complications, Harding said. More than three-fourths of those veterans fought in World War II.

A total of 16 million troops served in World War II and Moffat County definitely has its share, Harding said.

"I can't say how many World War II vets are here but I know it's a lot," he said.

Craig resident Vick Beckett is a veteran of World War II. He served aboard a Navy aircraft carrier from 1944 to 1946.

Beckett said he was honored by the opportunity to receive assistance that would help him witness the East coast memorial dedication. But "it's not my cup of tea," he said. "I'd rather somebody else go."

But Mike Condie, Veterans Service Officer for Routt County, hopes that a majority of WWII vets have a different view. Condie is concerned about getting a poor response from veterans. So far he's only received a total of 10 applications and the deadline is looming.

"It's the first time this thing has been provided and I think it's a real good deal," he said. "I think it's a good idea to provide this access to all our veterans."

While veterans' advocates are pleased to pass on the generous opportunity to celebrate the heroic contributions of World War II veterans, it's largely the thought that counts. Some World War II veterans are bitter that a memorial in their honor took nearly six decades to reach fruition. The memorial is an 11-year effort funded with $193 million in private donations.

And some local veterans complain their interests aren't often reflected in the legislature.

But Colorado's Lt. Gov. Jane Norton played a role in arranging funding for Colorado vets to attend the dedication, said member Marvin Meyers, a member of the Colorado Veterans Affair Board.

"The lieutenant governor reached out to business people who responded with the donations," he said. "This is an opportunity for some people to go to the memorial who otherwise wouldn't be able to go."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or by email at ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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