SIKESTON -- The National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., opened in 2004 but many World War II veterans have still not been able to see it.
Rob Callahan of Poplar Bluff is trying to change that before it is too late with an Honor Tour scheduled for June 21-23.
The theme of the trip is "Saluting our World War II veterans from America's Heartland," Callahan said. "My goal is to take these heroes to Washington, D.C., at no cost to them to see their World War II memorial which is a memorial they waited over 59 years for. My goal is that these guys go at no cost to them but it's getting down to the wire now and I desperately need donations."
Those who have been able to make the trip have found the experience of visiting the memorial unforgettable, according to Callahan.
"You'll see some of the biggest smiles you've ever seen in your life," he said. "They'll stand up a little straighter, little taller, their shoulders will go out a little bit and their chest will poke out a little bit. It is something to remember, it really is."
Callahan already has travel expenses and arrangements taken care of.
"We're going to be leaving out of St. Louis airport and Southwest Airlines has donated 30 roundtrip air fares," he said. "Three Rivers Travel from Fairdealing has donated a driver and a motorcoach to get us to the airport and back."
Funds are now being sought to cover the cost of meals, lodging, a motorcoach in Washington, D.C., and step-on guide as well as taxes, tips and gratuities. Callahan estimated $400 to $420 per person is needed to cover these costs.
"I can't overstate the need for donations," he said. "We have to pay for this trip real quick."
There are 30 veterans signed up for the trip "from northeast Arkansas and all over Southeast Missouri," Callahan said, including residents of Scott City, Dudley, Bloomfield and Dexter.
Seats on the tour were awarded on a "first come, first served" basis.
"The trip is full and I have a waiting list already -- I have over 10 on the waiting list," he said.
To his knowledge, none of those signed up for the trip have ever been to the nation's capital to see the memorial.
"I've got veterans that without assistance, can not afford to go on their own," Callahan said.
Callahan said he hopes to schedule more Honor Tour trips in the near future but whether he will be able to "remains to be seen -- I need to get this first one behind me."
The Honor Tours are something that need to be done as soon as possible, according to Callahan.
"Time is not on our side -- it's of the essence," he said. He estimated most World War II veterans probably have only five or six years left during which they would be able to make the trip.
"Our youngest World War II veteran is 79 year sold and we are losing 1,200 plus per day," Callahan said. "Most of our guys are in their mid 80s to low 90s."
A non-profit corporation has been set up to accept any contributions "so it's a tax-deductible donation. They can contact me 573-718-1076," Callahan said. "I think it's a very small thing, a way to say 'thank you' for all they gave us."
On the Net: National World War II Memorial: http://www.wwiimemorial.com