GREENVILLE — The goal of the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight on June 24 was to give the remaining World War II veterans in the area “one last mission.”
The flight took about 80 Michigan veterans to Washington, D.C., and the WWII Memorial, a place that in 69 years since serving in the war, Greenville resident Anthony Czarnopis had never been.
“It was out of this world,” said Czarnopis, 94. “We went to all the memorials.”
Paired with a “guardian,” each veteran was escorted throughout each of the capital’s war memorials. Reading through the names of those whose lives were taken during the war, viewing the Korean memorial and even getting a chance to talk with fellow veterans, Czarnopis said the experience was something he will never forget.
“I enjoyed every inch of the trip,” he said. “It was a wonderful trip. It made you feel good.”
Departing from Grand Rapids, Czarnopis and his fellow veterans were flown to Washington, D.C., where they were greeted by a crowd of students and those wishing to thank them for their service.
“You couldn’t believe the reception we got when we got there,” Czarnopis said. “We had school children greeting us. We got letters from the school children.”
Thumbing through dozens of letters, poems and thank you notes from the students, Czarnopis said Tuesday from his home in Greenville the children’s words meant a lot.
“It makes tears in your eyes reading them,” he said.
Entering the United States Marine Corps in 1941, a 21-year-old Czarnopis was the second youngest of five boys who all served in the military. His brother, Robert, took part in the Honor Flight alongside him.
As a Marine, Czarnopis served “all over the place” during WWII.
In his last campaign, Czarnopis and his 1st Marine Division helped secure the island of Okinawa, just a few hundred miles off the coast of mainland Japan. The island was declared secure in June of 1945 and provided the allied troops a station close to the enemy’s mainland.
Two months later, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the war as Japan would soon after surrender.
“After the island was secure, the war was over,” Czarnopis said.
The Grand Rapids native would serve another few months before receiving his discharge.
“I got in in 1941 and got out in 1946, the year after the war,” he said. “I was in during the whole duration of the war.”
Three years later, Czarnopis moved to Greenville, where still lives with his wife, MaryAnn.