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It's the definition of irony: many of the World War II veterans who are honored by a memorial in Washington, DC, aren't able to make the trip to see it.

Challenges such as age, illness, and financial concerns are all obstacles which might seem insurmountable for veterans and their families - but one woman has taken it upon herself to help these brave men and women clear those hurdles.

Inspired by family members who had served during the war, Diane Hight has made it her mission in life to grant wishes for senior citizens. One of her major undertakings has been helping them go to the nation's capital for a trip they will never forget - and taking care of every detail, including the cost.

Local vets James Chapuis and his sister Rose Young were among those honored to make such a trip. They describe it as one of the most memorable events of their lives.
"The vets are dying so fast," Rose says.

Rose was originally scheduled to go with her husband, also a vet, but he passed away before he could make the trip. Her brother, James, decided that he would accompany his sister. His wife Peggy went as well.

Rose and James had their trips, worth nearly $1,000 each, fully paid for by Forever Young, but James had to pay for his wife's trip. The group left Memphis on September 10. Bellevue Baptist had agreed to let the travelers leave their cars in their parking lot, and when they arrived, the vets were in for a surprise.

A ladder truck was there with a large American flag flying in their honor.

Once their bus arrived at the airport, Rose says traffic inside came to a "dead still." Inside, the Navy Band was playing to greet the travelers, and, since it was lunchtime, a travel agent had arranged for sandwiches to be waiting for the group.

As they arrived at Reagan National Airport in Virginia, they were honored as well. Rose says she was amazed at the number of people, including foreigners, who wanted to come up and just touch the veterans.

"I heard we got more attention than the President," she recalls.

They were saluted by military bands there as well, and the fire department sprayed arcs of water over the plane as they taxied in - a military arrival salute.

Once on their charter tour bus, the travelers were surprised to see a video slideshow playing showing their photos and names, over music played by the band of their branch of service.

Hight and her organization had thought of everything.
The vets each had name badges, with contact information for Hight, the private nurse who came on the trip, and their hotel on the back. They also had a private tour guide who accompanied them around the city.

In addition to the World War II Memorial, the group also visited the White House, the Iwo Jima Memorial, several foreign embassies, and the Smithsonian Museum.

At the World War II Memorial, they had arranged for someone to play "Taps." They also got to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery.

One of the most impressive sites, they agreed, was the Korean War Memorial, with its soldiers tramping through rice paddies.

Rose and James said one of the best parts of the trip was being able to swap war stories with other vets. Even though they had other family members who served, they both said that they didn't discuss their experiences at the time. Three other women were on the trip, along with a veteran of the Normandy Invasion and a Pearl Harbor survivor.

Rose had served as a nurse with the Women's Army Corps in Florida.

"I wasn't a nurse. I tried to tell them that I wasn't a nurse, but the Army decided I was going to be a nurse," she recalls.

James tried to enlist when he was 16, but his superiors discovered he was underage and sent him home. He was back on his 17th birthday. He served in the Navy in the South Pacific.

Near the end of their trip, Hight had arranged a "mail call" for the vets. She had gotten in touch with relatives, as well as area school children, and had them write letters and draw pictures.

When the group arrived back in Memphis, they were greeted by ROTC students who carried their bags.

Everywhere they went, the travelers were pampered and honored, and it's safe to say it's a trip they will cherish for the rest of their lives.

"It was four days and three nights of being treated like kings and queens," James says.

For more information on the work being done by Forever Young, or to make a donation towards defraying the cost of a trip for a veteran, contact Diane Hight at 901-299-7516 or visit www.ForeverYoungSeniorWish.org.

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