American Airlines flying WWII veterans to Honolulu for 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor

American Airlines flying World War II veterans to Honolulu for 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor
American Airlines flying World War II veterans to Honolulu for 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Photo credit Alan Scaia, 1080 KRLD

Tuesday, December 7 will mark the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into World War II. Friday, 63 World War II veterans flew into DFW Airport from other parts of the country, and American Airlines is flying them to Honolulu.

Friday, family members and veterans' organizations lined up in Terminal D, playing music and waving flags as the veterans passed through.

"It was a great honor and privilege to represent my country," says Neal McCallen, a retired Marine. "What we did is what the American people wanted us to do, and I think we did a damn good job."

"We didn't enjoy it, but we were glad to do our little part in making this war come to an end," says Charlie Levesque, who is a Navy veteran.

The veterans will spend a week in Hawaii to mark the anniversary. Of those making the trip, 12 are at least 100 years old. Six were serving at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.

"They flew right by the front entrance to our barracks," says Navy Lieutenant Commander Chass Phillips. "They just flew right across and kept going. I said, 'Boy, the Army's making this look real. They even painted up a plane and put some spots on it.' I didn't have the slightest idea they were doing anything."

The first lieutenant on the flight to Honolulu is Nancy Wudtke. Among the World War II veterans on the flight is her dad, Walter Lebetski.

"I think a lot of this, for him, it's kind of overwhelming to get such wonderful treatment," Wudtke says. "My dad and I have always been close, so it will just be special to go back to Hawaii."

She says her dad has not returned to Hawaii since he was in the service in 1946.

"I think a lot of people from that generation, they don't really consider themselves heroes," Wudtke says. "They just did what needed to be done. They were the greatest generation."

Volunteers lined a corridor in Terminal D, cheering as each veteran passed by.

"It's rewarding. It's just rewarding," says an American Airlines employee who had joined others in waving an American flag and cheering. He had served in the first Gulf War. "They stood the watch before we did."

"It wasn't the first watch. That goes back to 1776," said another employee who had served in Vietnam. "But they stood the watch before us. You can't thank them enough."

They also handed out American flags to others who wanted to join.

"It's really amazing to get to see these amazing men and women who served our country for our freedom and protection," says a woman who was flying to Boston, but when she saw what was happening says she wanted to join.

American coordinated with the non-profit, Best Defense Foundation, to plan the flight. The organization was founded in 2018 to celebrate veterans who have served in all military conflicts since World War II.