SAN ANTONIO — A group of WWII veterans embarked on a special trip to visit the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
The entire trip was paid for by Soaring Valor, the organization of the Gary Sinise Foundation. Sinise, a Hollywood actor best known for his role as Lt. Dan in "Forrest Gump," has been a huge advocate for the military. The Soaring Valor program is one of many ways Sinise has given back to veterans.
This year, 35 veterans from the San Antonio area were chosen to go on the trip. As part of the visit, veterans were able to take a family member who could escort them.
Each veteran was paired with a student from Grapevine Faith Christian School.
"I hope this trip to New Orleans would shed some light and mold some thoughts that they might have as they get older (about) what democracy really means and what it means to be a citizen of the United States," said Frank Pantuso, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. "We as veterans recognize the fact that liberty is pretty precious and you've got to practice it. You've got to want it. And if you don't look out, it's very possible to think that you may lose it."
The veterans said the trip wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the organizers in their group, including USMC reserve Glenn Trottie and Russell Minor.
Minor has never served in the military but shared his deep appreciation for veterans.
"The best friend I ever had was a Nii-jima survivor, and when I found out the horrific battle that he went through – found that out 60 years later – he couldn't talk about it," Minor said. "He couldn't remember the last time someone told him thank you. I decided I needed to start saying thank you."
Minor said he met the World War II veterans from the San Antonio area through Alamo Honor Flight, an organization that helps take veterans to Washington D.C. to visit memorials.
"We got back into town, took the bus back over to the American Legion where we met at. We were all saying goodbye to our veterans and the friends we made on the trip, hugging and crying," Minor said. "I said, 'I don't know what I'm going to do, I'm going to keep these guys together.'"
So Minor began organizing breakfasts for the veterans, meeting up at various restaurants every months to catch up.
"When it came down to the Sinise Foundation, we knew the veterans. We could have taken more if we had the opportunity," said Maj. Gen. Robert Parker, a retired U.S. Air Force service member.
Minor said the trip was a special one for the group, a sentiment that resonated with him.
"To hear them say that, that's everything to me. That's why I do it," he said. "Because they deserve more gratitude, more thank yous then we could ever give 'em. From the bottom of my heart, I just want to tell them how special they are."