INDIANAPOLIS - An Indianapolis man who's helped fly dozens of World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the monument dedicated in their honor is being recognized for his efforts.
Grant Thompson is the director of Indy Honor Flight, a program that flies veterans, free of charge, on a chartered flight to the nation's capital to see the National World War II memorial, which opened in 2004.
"My grandfather was a Marine who fought at Iwo Jima. He got a purple heart in Iwo Jima, and he passed before the memorial was ever finished," Thompson said. "I would have loved to have taken him, but I did the next best thing and took another family member, one of my wife's great uncles."
Seeing the memorial had such a profound effect on Grant that he came back and volunteered to start an Indianapolis branch of the National Honor Flight Network.
The group's first trip took place in September, when 80 veterans and their guests went on a one-day trip to Washington, D.C.
"One of the most dramatic parts of the day is when that bus turns that last corner and into view comes the World War II Memorial for the first time, and you got these 90-year-old men and women acting like first-graders on a field trip," Thompson said. "They're all pressing up against the glass trying to see their memorial for the very first time, and it's just so rewarding to see that."
At the memorial site, memories rush back and the veterans are often overwhelmed by emotion, Thompson said.
"When you hear a Marine that was serving on Iwo Jima talking to a Navy guy that was shelling that island, softening up the Japanese before the invasion, and the conversations that they'll have, it's just incredible," Thompson said. "Many of them have lost a brother, someone in the family, or they've all lost friends."
Veterans and their families gathered to cheer on Thompson when he was presented with an RTV6 Jefferson Award, a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public service in America.
Thompson is humble about the work he's done.
"It's a small way of honoring that generation, saying thank you to the men and women that saved the world -- literally," he said. "Being able to bring nearly 80 other World War II veterans out there, I think grandpa would have been proud of that."
Indy Honor Flight is planning another trip for the spring of 2013.
For more information about the Jefferson Awards or to nominate a leader, click here.