Medical Readiness Is Memorial Priority
"Next year, we might as well say 10 percent of these people here are going to be gone," said Lewis, 78, taking a look around at the veterans who came with him from Kentucky.
"Yep," agreed Roberts, "10 percent is probably about right."
"No doubt in my mind," said Lewis.
But it does nothing to diminish the attraction that the memorial exerts on many veterans. In fact, the years spent waiting for the memorial to open have veterans all the more eager to see it while they're able. Henson's daughter, Shirley Macklem, said that was the case with her father, who lived in Kuttawa, Ky.
"He lived in a small town, but I don't know how many people -- maybe 50 or so -- have called and said he was just like a little child looking forward to going on this trip," said Macklem, who was preparing for a memorial service for her father yesterday.
Henson slipped and fell during a stop on the bus trip, and other veterans said he joked about his clumsiness. But the driver insisted that he take Henson to a hospital, where physicians speculated that he had suffered a mini-stroke. At the hospital, Henson had a massive stroke that claimed his life.
Many of the other veterans and their wives, although saddened, said Henson's death was a little easier for them to take knowing that he died doing something that he so eagerly wanted to do. They understood his motivation for getting on a bus for a couple of days and making such a long journey because they had been driven to do the same thing.
"We took up a little collection of money on the bus to buy a wreath," said Maxine Smith, who rode with her husband of 57 years, James Smith of Paducah, Ky. "We'll give it to his family."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Emmett Buckley from Erlanger, Ky., sits among his fellow veterans from Kentucky before the group sang "God Bless America."
(Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)