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WWII veteran remembers fallen friends on honor flight

News Enterprise - 6/10/2018

Thurston Trail has long wanted to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. When he couldn't sleep at night, he would think about making the trip to honor his friends who died.

This past week, the 92-year-old of Elizabethtown was one of 62 World War II veterans from Kentucky who visited the memorial as part of an honor flight. The veterans visited memorials in D.C. on the two-day trip sponsored by Honor Flight Bluegrass. The Louisville-based nonprofit said this was the first flight just for World War II veterans.

The flight coincided with the 74th anniversary of D-Day.

Trail served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1945.

"(The honor flight is) something that I never dreamed would happen, but it did," he said Saturday at Kensington Center, where he's lived for four years.

Trail said it was a trip filled with laughter and sadness. He said the memorial was moving, and he thought of his buddies and friends who didn't make it.

"I stood there with my hand on my heart and tears coming down," he said. "My heart went out to those who gave their lives for our country."

In June 1944, Trail enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. His older brother already had volunteered for military service.

"He was my person that I loved more than anybody else beyond my mother," Trail said.

He turned 18 while at boot camp. He went on to served in the Pacific Theater as a gunner on a Higgins boat, which transported troops to beaches for amphibious assaults.

"Bullets were going on one side and over top of my head, but never touched me," he said.

Trail said he was skilled at reassembling a 50-caliber machine gun when it would get jammed, and he taught other sailors how to take the gun apart and put it back it together while blindfolded. In the middle of a battle, he said the gun would get hot and jam, so they had to be able to take apart the gun quickly and without looking.

"I was able to help many other young fellows my age to protect themselves," he said.

Trail said troops didn't always make it to the beach.

"It was a sad war, but we won it," he said.

Trail said a friend signed him up for the honor flight. Amanda Hillsamer, recreation director at Kensington, accompanied him.

In Washington, Trail and other veterans were greeted by lines of people, who cheered for them and shook their hands.

"I'll never forget all the hands I shook," he said, tearing up. "It made me feel like I was going to faint."

Trail said the trip was one of the greatest rewards.

"It's almost unbelievable," he said.

 
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