The green C-130 carrying 22 tired, silver-haired veterans landed at Andrews Air Force Base shortly after lunch today and immediately platoons of military personnel prepared to ferry them to temporary refuge at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington.
The group was part of a contingent of as many as 416 people who had been evacuated from a veterans' retirement home in Gulfport, Miss., that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
"This is the most disastrous thing that I have ever been though, even after WW II and Korea," said Robert Lee, 84, who came off the plane sporting an old light blue blazer filled with shiny military lapel pins. "The Navy home is completely destroyed. . . . I was lucky to get out."
While Lee was happy to be safe, he was not too tickled about being away from his sweetheart, who is still back in Mississippi. "I fought against this," he said. "I didn't want to leave my girlfriend, Joy. She doesn't know I am up here."
Eydthe Jackman, 95, who served as a pharmacist mate 2nd class in World War II, said she was frustrated by the move. "I don't know what in the world I am doing," said Jackman as they carried her off the plane and laid her stretcher down on the tarmac. "I just go where they take me. I don't asked questions, I just do what I am told."
Veterans officials said the residents of the Gulfport beachfront facility, which is affiliated with the District retirement home, spent a frightening night when the hurricane hit. Ten-feet of water came into the ground flooRodney Fullerr and the kitchen, dining room and long-term care facility were ruined.
Most of the residents were coming to Washington by bus, but some flew in.
Rodney Fuller, a 38-year-old nursing assistant at the retirement home, accompanied those on the plane today.
"We thought that we were prepared for the storm," Fuller said. " We were down on the first floor, we thought that everything was going to be all right, but then the water started rushing through."
Iris Dixon, a nurse who also works at the home said Katrina was the first hurricane she has experienced since moving to Mississippi. "Everything was just so devastating. I was at work with the residents when the storm hit; my whole street was damaged. I don't have any family there so it makes easier for me to come here."