As several hotel rooms booked up for the opening of the World War II Memorial, veteran Bill Carter of Lincolnton received a call telling him where he would be staying.
It was Fort Bellvoir, Va. â€œI was stationed there in 1944,â€ he said. â€œI said, â€˜Say that again.â€™â€
Carter was a member of the 30th Infantry Division, 105th Engineers. He was unable to be sent to any battle zones due to surgery.
For Carter, like all of the veterans who attended the opening, the memorial was an honor to the service a generation gave.
â€œVietnam veterans were there, tooâ€ said Carterâ€™s son-in-law, Jennings Atkinson. â€œIt meant a lot to them. I think they wished they could have been respected like this.â€
â€œThe veterans were treated very well,â€ Carterâ€™s daughter, Sharon Atkinson, said.
Cars were not allowed uptown. Instead 900 buses provided free transportation for the veterans. â€œWashington was overwhelmed by the veterans who were there,â€ she said.
Extra security precautions were taken. â€œThere were helicopters circling, snipers on the rooftop, men with machine guns,â€ said Jennings Atkinson.
Medic tents were set up around the memorial to service veterans. During the time, 112 veterans had to be treated at the tents.
â€œIt was really pitiful to see all of them in wheelchairs and walkers,â€ Atkinson said. â€œThey all greeted each other and hugged each other,â€ he said.
â€œWe saw veterans pushing their wives, wives pushing their husbands, sons and grandsons pushing their fathers,â€ said Carter.
Carter saw four Navajo veterans at the event. Some 473 Navajo were enlisted in WWII because the Germans could not decipher the Navajo language.
Each veteran could put his name, address, and telephone number on a board so that other members of their units might be able to contact them.
Only 9 out of the 90 members of Carterâ€™s division are still alive. They have a reunion every year.
Carter was awed by the displays of patriotism he saw at the memorial. â€œYou would have to see it,â€ he said, â€œread all the things written in the granite.â€
He saw one man who carried a flag back and forth all day, never letting it drag and touch the ground.
â€œWe have senators who are against the flag amendment in Washington,â€ he said. â€œI hope they see that man.â€
Among the celebrities Carter and his family saw were Presidents George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. They also saw Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, two of the major supporters of the memorial.
The memorial consists of a Rainbow Pool in the center of the plaza. On the edges are 56 granite pillars representing each state or territory. A wall displays 4,000 gold stars, each representing 100 of the total 400,000 that died.
â€œIt was a beautiful eventâ€ said Sharon Atkinson. â€œWe were blessed to be there. There needs to be a memorial to everyone who has died for this country.â€
â€œIt just makes you feel like youâ€™ve done your best for your country,â€ said Carter. â€œA lot of soldiers paid the supreme sacrifice, but Iâ€™m just here.â€ by Caleb Hawkins