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Vets getting 'one last mission' to WWII memorial in Washington, D.C.

Three of the 20 residents from Merrill Gardens in Renton planning to visit the World War II monument in Washington, D.C., are, from left, Maury Marler, Louise George and  Bob Brown. - Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter
Three of the 20 residents from Merrill Gardens in Renton planning to visit the World War II monument in Washington, D.C., are, from left, Maury Marler, Louise George and Bob Brown.
— image credit: Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter

Merrill Gardens is hoping to send some its World War II veterans on “one last mission” this summer to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The retirement community is hosting a fundraiser this summer for a unique Puget Sound nonprofit and national organization is taking veterans on free flights back to Washington, D.C., to tour the war memorials.

It’s called Puget Sound Honor Flight and it’s one of about 127 regional hubs in 41 states that take veterans on “one last mission,” as their website puts it. The national organization has taken more than 100,000 veterans back to the capital.

Right now, the group is planning its September and October flights.

Merrill Gardens will hold a fundraising effort July 12 in order to sponsor their 20 veterans in a flight from Seattle back to D.C. The event is from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at their Renton Centre, 104 Burnett Ave., Renton. Admission is $20 and the goal is to raise at least $20,000 in donations. A kids orchestra will perform, along with the band Juilliani and there will be a silent auction.

“We try to impress upon the business community that we’re presenting to that time is limited, that we have to do this,” said Denise Rouleau, Honor Flight rep.

The organization estimates that the country loses approximately 800 veterans daily.

“So we have our work cut out for us and need all the support we can get, in order to accomplish our goal,” Rouleau said.

Merrill Gardens resident Louise George has applied to be part of the program.

George was one of the first women from Seattle to join the Marine Corps and was sent to a Washington, D.C., office to be a secretary to five officers.

The only time she felt the gravity of the situation, she said, was when she realized she was replacing men in the office who were going off to war.

“I was replacing somebody to go out to the front, so,” George said. “That made me feel kinda sad.”

However, if she had it to do all over again, George said she’d still sign up for the experience.

“I had a delightful time; I was never sorry that I joined,” she said. “Met lovely people, lots of women that came from little towns. It was a big experience for them to leave and go somewhere like that and they were all like me, from a small town like Renton.”

Merrill Gardens boasts other veterans who are also proud of their service to the country.

Bob Brown was a gunner’s mate at Pearl Harbor when the bombs dropped. He was 18 years old when he joined the Navy and said he never fired a shot in combat. He wanted to join the Navy and see the world, but instead said he saw a lot of water and violence.

Even though he suffered chronic seasickness, he enjoyed midnight watch because he could watch the sail fish, dolphins and fluorescents on the water.

“If I was a young man, I would choose the Navy for my military service,” Brown said. “It would be my career; I wanted to be a career sailor.”

Brown served six years and stayed in the Reserve until he retired. On the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, Brown spent three to four hours in the bottom of his ship, which was docked in Battleship Row, next to the USS Oklahoma.

When he came up from down below, he witnessed carnage everywhere. The gunners in the same location as he was on a neighboring ship did not make it because their turrets were underwater.

Brown said he doesn’t regret joining the service but wouldn’t want to go back.

Maury Marler served four years in the Utah National Guard and 26 years in the Army Air Corps and the U.S. Air Force.

“There are some things I would do differently, but overall I wouldn’t change much,” he said.

Marler served at the Pentagon and also has no desire to go back, he said.

However, Marler does remember making continental trips and viewing the aurora borealis during his time in the Air Force.

For more event details, contact Merrill Gardens at Renton Centre, at 104 Burnett Ave. S., Renton, by calling 425-235-6400.

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