Don Ridolfi, 90, a Marine veteran of the Pacific theater, and Bill Miller, 88, who served with the Army in Europe, returned home Sunday after a memorable weekend in the nation’s capital.
It was there they visited the National World War II Memorial and other monuments as a part of an expenses-paid trip sponsored by Honor Flight Northern California, a nonprofit.
He and Ridolfi were among 32 Northern California veterans flown from San Francisco to Washington on Friday, May 13.
“It was just fantastic,” Miller said. “I’ve never been treated so well, or felt so honored, in all my life.”
The two Tracy vets and others from Northern California were put up in a hotel for two nights with all meals and other expenses taken care of.
“When the plane landed at Dulles airport, two fire trucks on the taxiway sprayed water to create a welcoming arch,” Miller said. “I knew right then we were in for something special.”
On Saturday, they toured Washington in a chartered bus, making a special stop at the World War II Memorial, which was completed in 2004.
“It was really an impressive monument,” Ridolfi reported. “There were 56 tall pillars, one for each state and territory, places for the names of war dead and special sections for the Pacific and European theaters,” he said. “There were docents there to point out features of the memorial.”
Miller said that the 32 veterans from Northern California — attired in yellow T-shirts — were accompanied by 16 volunteer escorts who catered to their every need.
“I usually get around with a walker, but they plopped me down in a wheelchair and pushed me around all over Washington,” he said. “If I needed anything, they were right there to make sure I was taken care of.”
Ridolfi said he felt ill at one point, so one of the veterans on the trip — she had been an Army nurse in Vietnam with the rank of colonel — provided medicine to settle his stomach.
Besides the moving experience at the World War II Memorial, a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where they saw the changing of the honor guard, was another highlight of the visit, said Miller, a retired U.S. Bureau of Reclamation employee who served in France and Germany with the 100th Infantry Division.
Ridolfi, a retired Heinz employee who was with the 2nd Marine Division on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian in the Pacific, especially appreciated the stop at the Marine Corps Memorial, which is centered by a statue of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima.
“What a trip,” he said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”