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Arkansas vets welcomed at WWII Memorial despite shutdown

<p>PHOTO BY PETER URBAN</p><p>Carl Rogers, 92, of Romance, is surrounded by young tourists from San Diego, Calif., as he tells stories of his Army service during World War II. Rogers visited the World War II Memorial Saturday with Honor Flights NWA.</p>

PHOTO BY PETER URBAN

Carl Rogers, 92, of Romance, is surrounded by young tourists from San Diego, Calif., as he tells stories of his Army service during World War II. Rogers visited the World War II Memorial Saturday with Honor Flights NWA.

<p>PHOTO BY PETER URBAN</p><p>Herman Wright, 89, of Camden, makes his way through a crowd greeting Honor Flight NWA as it arrived Saturday at the World War II Memorial. Wright was a “Buffalo Soldier” serving in combat in Italy during World War II.</p>

PHOTO BY PETER URBAN

Herman Wright, 89, of Camden, makes his way through a crowd greeting Honor Flight NWA as it arrived Saturday at the World War II Memorial. Wright was a “Buffalo Soldier” serving in combat in Italy during World War II.

<p>PHOTO BY PETER URBAN</p><p>Kenneth Lucas, 91, of North Little Rock, stands inside the World War II Memorial on Saturday. He served in three wars as a member of the U.S. Army: World War II, Korea and Vietnam.</p>

PHOTO BY PETER URBAN

Kenneth Lucas, 91, of North Little Rock, stands inside the World War II Memorial on Saturday. He served in three wars as a member of the U.S. Army: World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

<p>PHOTO BY PETER URBAN</p><p>Marvin Hill, 98, of Dierks, visited the World War II Memorial on Saturday as part of Honor Flight NWA. He was the oldest of the Arkansas veterans participating.</p>

PHOTO BY PETER URBAN

Marvin Hill, 98, of Dierks, visited the World War II Memorial on Saturday as part of Honor Flight NWA. He was the oldest of the Arkansas veterans participating.

<p>PHOTO BY PETER URBAN</p><p>Raymond Benton, 89, of Marion, served in the Pacific theater during World War II. A self-professed cowboy, Benton grew up in Oklahoma before settling in eastern Arkansas.</p>

PHOTO BY PETER URBAN

Raymond Benton, 89, of Marion, served in the Pacific theater during World War II. A self-professed cowboy, Benton grew up in Oklahoma before settling in eastern Arkansas.

About 80 Arkansas veterans were cheered an applauded Saturday as they made their way into the World War II Memorial on Saturday under bright blue skies.

“It’s all right, son,” said a wistful Marvin Hill of Dierks.

The 98-year-old was the oldest of the Arkansas veterans participating in the Honor Flight that flew from Little Rock earlier Saturday morning for a daylong tour of the Washington, D.C., war memorials.

Hill, wearing a cowboy hat and boots, served in the Army in the Pacific theater and wondered why the Dutch East Indies was not included in the battlefields recognized in stone at the memorial.

“That was a rough one,” said Hill, who recalled the heat and having to sleep in his clothes in foxholes and on hard ground.

The Arkansas veterans were among seven Honor Flights that visited the WWII Memorial on Saturday. The veterans arrived not entirely sure that they would be granted access to the memorial due to the ongoing federal government shutdown.

On Tuesday, about 125 Iowa and Mississippi veterans were initially blocked from entering but allowed in with the help of several members of Congress. The National Park Service, which has closed parks across the country, is now allowing Honor Flight participants entry at the World War II Memorial. Still, lawmakers from visiting states are taking no chances, and with Congress in session this weekend, are checking in with the Honor Flights.

Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., met the Arkansas veterans at Reagan National Airport — where a band struck up tunes from the WWII era. They traveled with them by bus to the memorial, escorted by members of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group.

Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, greeted the buses at the World War II Memorial — helping to unload wheelchairs and walkers — and shaking hands with most of the veterans as they disembarked.

“This is just a way to say thank you. I’m glad the whole delegation is out here,” Pryor said.

Dozens of volunteers and tourists were also on hand, applauding and thanking the veterans as they entered the memorial.

Carl Rogers, 91, of Romance, held court with a group of young tourists from San Diego, Calif., who surrounded him as he told them stories of his time in the Army so long ago.

Rogers, now bald, pulled a photograph from his wallet showing off a full head of hair from back in the day. After the war ended, Rogers said, “I married my sweetheart.”

Herman Wright, 89, of Camden, said he had seen the memorial on television but that the small screen didn’t do it justice.

“It’s hard to beat being right here. I never thought I’d get the chance,” said Wright, a “Buffalo Soldier” who served in combat in Italy as a member of the 92nd Infantry Division.

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