WASHINGTON, D.C. - At 88, Eva Appe still remembers quite clearly the day she signed up to serve her country.
"It was January the 10th, 1943 I believe..."
The world was at war, and when she turned 21, Eva didn’t hesitate.
"Well, I just wanted to in and help out, do what I can."
She joined the WAC’s, the women’s army corps, and rose to become a drill sergeant for other women soldiers.
"You had to show them the courtesies, who to salute, when to salute, take them for their clothes…"
In London, then Paris, she worked in the signal corps, relaying vital phone calls to General Eisenhower’s command in the run up to the D-day invasion.
"And we always had the quote: 'Please guard your conversations because the enemy may be listening…'"
Saturday, with help from wheelchairs, walkers and guardians, Eva joined 55 other World War II veterans including four women for one more remarkable journey.
They rode with Honor Flight, a non-profit group that flies World War II vets to Washington D.C. to see the memorial built for them.
When they got off the plane, a hero’s welcome awaited them -- a brass band and dozens of people, some veterans, some current military, some simply supporters of their service. The welcoming party waved flags and red, white and blue balloons.
They cheered and hugged each veteran who walked or wheeled into the airport.
"You know I’m sentimental and I cried a lot when I saw all those people standing on the side," said Appe.
Doris Bennin, traveled with her husband Sol, both of them veterans, both overwhelmed by the reception.
"The tears were rolling," she said.
At the World War II memorial the veterans were greeted by Elizabeth Dole, whose husband Bob helped create the memorial.
"Thank you so much for what you’ve done for this country and for this world," Dole said to Appe, embracing her in her wheel chair.
The vets were also greeted by children who turned out to show their appreciation..
"Bless you, you gonna be a woman’s soldier some day?" Appe said to one girl.
World War II was the first war in American history in which women officially served in the military in uniform. More than 350,000 women, like Eva Appe, served as clerks, typists, operators, nurses, and even pilots.
"I worked in flight operations and we’d relieve the soldiers as they’d go to war," said Helen Richland, age 87, of Miami. "We did their job..'till they came back."
"Oh I think they [women] were very important," said Doris Bennin, who also served as a WAC. "They did jobs that let boys go out to fight.
At their memorial, Appe and the others took in the marble columns signifying the wars in the Pacific and Atlantic, the wreaths recognizing veterans of every state, and the stars commemorating those who died.
Later, at the Women's World War II memorial, Appe, Bennin, Richland, and fellow vet Betty Howe of Ft. Pierce all posed for a photograph.
These women, like so many of their generation, are humble about their contributions to their country. They didn’t ask for adulation or credit, but some 65 years after they served, they’re grateful to know people haven’t forgotten.
"I had a wonderful day," said Appe, wiping tears from her eyes.
Southeast Florida Honor Flight has planned two more flights to Washington this year -- one in September, another in November. There is a waiting list for veterans who wish to join in the flights, but organizers encourage interested vets to apply. They aim to keep making Honor Flights, so long as there are veterans who want to make the trip.
©2007 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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