GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - In just a few days, about 90 World War II veterans living in Mississippi, will board an airplane for the flight of their lives. That plane flight will take them to the nation's capitol, where, for the first time, they will see the World War II Memorial.
This will be the first time Honor Flight Mississippi takes vets from our state to see their memorial.
WLOX's Jeff Lawson recently had a chance to speak with Tom Manning about the trip. Manning served on a search and rescue team during the war in the South Pacific. But during one mission, he was the one who needed to be rescued.
"I was on a small boat, and it capsized. And everybody left and went to swimming," Tom said.
Eventually, someone came by and rescued Manning. He has tried to find that man for 50 years but hasn't had any luck finding him.
Even if he lived through the war, Manning figures he is long gone now. Manning wants to go to that World War II Memorial, for that brave man, but also the hundreds of thousands of others.
"I think of all them that did not come back everyday; it is constantly on my mind. I can't help it. I can't shake it."
Like so many vets, he still has nightmares about the experience of war.
"War is hell, anyway you look at it," he said. "If you are in a war zone, that is where you are at. You can't sleep; you finally get to where you can't eat."
Manning came home and lived a good life. Shortly after the war, he met a young lady. They dated for two weeks, then got married. To this day, 65 years later, they are still very much in love. Tom said it has been a simple life and a happy life.
To talk with Manning, is to be entertained. He told us he plans to wear his overalls to the memorial, just like the ones he wore the day he joined the Navy, 67 years ago.
"Yea, but these are going to be sharper," he said with a chuckle and a sparkle in his eyes. "Man they had patches on them. In fact, I had my patched up britches on this morning and my wife said, 'You ain't gonna wear them things.' And I said, Why not? The president ain't comin; is he?'" His wife of 65 years, just looked at him and chuckled.
This trip would not be happening if not for some terrific Mississippians who have organized it and raised the substantial amount of money needed to pull it off. They have done a wonderful job.
Like all the vets going on this trip, Manning said he greatly appreciates their efforts.
"Well, it means this: to me, I would like to hug everyone of their necks and thank them because I never could have gone. "
But on May 11, Tom Manning and a lot of other WWII veterans from Mississippi, will go on this extraordinary journey.
On the lighthearted side, there is one other thing about this trip, that has Manning mighty excited.
"I am going to get to fly in a jet airplane," he said with a smile. "I've been wanting to fly ever since they started jet airplanes."
Being the character that he is, Manning found out that a WWII pilot, now well into his eighties, will be going on this trip. Tom called him and asked if something happened to the pilot of this charter flight, could the WWII fighter pilot take over the controls?
The answer was, he could keep it on a straight line, but wasn't too sure about the landing. Mr. Manning told him to be ready, just in case.