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Veteran gets ride of a lifetime

Special Photo. Conyers resident and World War II veteran Ray Powell, center, with fellow veterans George Musick, left, and Leon Manry, both of Barnesville, are shown at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The men, along with other WWII veterans, traveled to Washington last month by Honor Air as part of an effort to send the veterans to the memorial that honors them and those who died during the war. Powell, a Marine veteran, and Musick and Manry, both Navy veterans, were escorted during the trip by Georgia State Patrol Trooper S.B. Short, who volunteered for the flight.

Special Photo. Conyers resident and World War II veteran Ray Powell, center, with fellow veterans George Musick, left, and Leon Manry, both of Barnesville, are shown at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The men, along with other WWII veterans, traveled to Washington last month by Honor Air as part of an effort to send the veterans to the memorial that honors them and those who died during the war. Powell, a Marine veteran, and Musick and Manry, both Navy veterans, were escorted during the trip by Georgia State Patrol Trooper S.B. Short, who volunteered for the flight.

CONYERS -- A one-day trip to Washington, D.C., may not seem like much of a visit, but for Conyers resident and World War II veteran Ray Powell time stood still.

Powell, 81, was among a group of 100 veterans from north Georgia honored last month through a program called Honor Air, whose purpose is to fly veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial before they pass away.

Powell has seen many Memorial Days since he served as a U.S. Marine. He would rather not go into too much detail about what he saw as a 16-year-old at Iwo Jima where he helped identify targets for air support.

This year will be different, thanks to the trip to Washington that gave Powell and many other veterans the chance to see the memorial to those who died during a war they fought over 65 years ago.

"I thought people had forgotten, but they have not," Powell said, pausing for composure.

Honor Air in Georgia is organized by the Roswell Rotary Club and is one of several spin-off efforts from the original 2006 flight from Hendersonville, N.C. The idea is to honor veterans, their courage, valor and sacrifice at a time the country needed it most.

Fewer than 20 percent of the 16 million veterans who fought in World War II are still living, according to the Georgia Honor Air organizers. Honor Air's goal is to get as many veterans as possible to the World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004.

Powell heard of Honor Air from Pete Mecca, a friend and fellow parishioner at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Conyers.

The Roswell Rotary Club chartered a flight to Washington. Able-bodied volunteers, called Guardians, accompanied the veterans to assist with any physical or health needs and limitations. Each Guardian was assigned to escort three veterans on the trip.

Powell rode a bus with other veterans coming from Barnesville, with another from Roswell, to go to Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. Powell said the buses were escorted by Georgia State Patrol troopers and other law enforcement officers to the airport.

The welcome in Washington included a water cannon salute from fire personnel outside Reagan International Airport and 150 Marines lined up at attention inside waiting for the group.

Powell said the sight brought tears to his eyes as well as to those of other veterans. Along with the World War II Memorial, the men visited the Korean War Veterans, Vietnam Veterans and Iwo Jima memorials and Arlington National Cemetery before flying back home that evening. All told, the trip was 20 hours and tough for a group of men in their 80s, 10 of whom are in wheelchairs.

Powell said the trip was a grand homecoming that he didn't get after the war.

"I got home as soon as I could," he said. "I landed in San Diego and the first thing I did was to go to a bar and order a beer. The bartender said I was too young, but after I talked with him and told him where I had been, he let me have one anyway. I was just glad to be home."

Powell said his job at Iwo Jima was to set ground markers for targets to show air support where to hit. The U.S. invasion was charged with the mission of capturing the two airfields on Iwo Jima. Powell remembered the island was small and heavily fortified with tunnels and caves the Japanese used as part of their defense.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial was a touching moment for Powell because of his brother, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Donald W. Powell, who died during the fighting there. Powell said his brother was injured and taken to Tokyo for medical attention and recovery. He was killed when he returned to duty. Powell also served in Korea in the Marines working on air support targeting Chinese and North Korean tanks.

Powell, a native of Statesville, N.C., moved to Conyers in 1975. He retired from Southern Railway in 1992. Powell is a long-time volunteer with the Rockdale Medical Center Auxiliary, which he said he enjoys very much. "I just love helping people."

To learn more about Honor Air in Georgia, go to www.roswellrotary.com