CASPER - Somewhere over the Midwest, 37,000 feet in the air, the thank yous came in the form of letters and cards - from wives and children, neighbors and elementary school students.
Sixty years ago, soldiers received notes in the form of V-mail - miniature bits of paper shrunken down via microfilm to save cargo space.
Now aboard Honor Flight-Wyoming, the 110 World War II veterans traveling to see their memorial weren't expecting all these letters.
The staff collected them ahead of time, two Xerox boxes full. Some veterans opened all the letters on the plane and shared them. Others kept them sealed. Maybe they would open the notes later, at home, when they were ready.
The letters brought back memories of mail received at war. They were reminders of stories these veterans will always carry with them.
Richard Asher used a pen to slice open the envelopes. There was one from his daughter, Pam, and his sons John and Rick. One from his wife, Lois:
Now you are on your way to Washington, D.C., I hope you have a wonderful time. ... I am very proud of you and so is your whole family. This card is appropriate for you because of the flag on the porch. I will keep it there while you are gone. There is much I could write but I'm sure you know what is in my heart. ...
Asher was 18 when he went into the Army in 1943. He went with a friend. They played football together.
The friend went off to Europe and was killed at Normandy. Asher went to New Caledonia, the island of Emirau and then Iwo Jima 15 days after the invasion.
By the time they got to Okinawa the war was over, and Asher got to come home.
"I can say war is hell," said Asher, now 84 and living in Powell. "You try to remember the good parts and forget the bad parts."
Thank you for all of the sacrifices you made to raise Dwayne and I. Your unconditional love and time is a measure I try to attain. I will never forget the pack trip, the trip to the Green River head waters, the trip to PA, New York City and DC years ago. I am so proud to be on this trip with you now. Thank you.
your granddaughter MeLissa
MeLissa Binning never heard much about her grandfather's time in the service.
If Binning and her brother, Dwayne, asked, he'd answer. But when George Rahm got home from the war, he went to work and didn't think much about it.
"It's just how it was," said Rahm, 88, of Pinedale.
Rahm officially became an Army man at 20 in 1942. He failed the eye exam three times before memorizing the chart. He wanted in.
They went across Africa and invaded Southern France, making their way toward Germany. His service ended in 1945, and he went to work with the Game and Fish Department, the Forest Service and the Highway Department.
"You name it, I've done it."
He and his wife raised Binning and her brother. He taught structure, discipline and a sense of family. They went to the mountains, took pack trips, saw wolves in the wild for the first time. He taught her to sing in the church choir.
When Binning was 14, she went on her first family vacation. They traveled east, to Washington, D.C., 18 years before the memorial was built.
This week, they went back together, Binning serving as Rahm's guardian.
"It means everything," said Binning, 37, now living in Casper. "You show your gratitude to the vets and see the emotions when they go back - it's something a lot of people should experience. To share something like this with a loved one means so much."
She was there to walk off the bus with him Wednesday and step through the rows of cheering volunteers.
They walked past the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, where they visited 23 years ago.
They were there together as a volunteer stretched out a hand: "Thank you for your service, welcome to your memorial."
Brian, Lana, Carissa, and I all congratulate you for making this trip. It is an honor for you to be remembered for service to your country on behalf of our future. Please represent us in paying tribute to all those who served and sacrificed in WWII, Dad included.
Your #1 daughter and family, Pat
They met at square dancing lessons.
They both attended the University of Nebraska's College of Agriculture. He was a soil scientist, she studied home economics and teaching.
Doris Huffaker was a junior when he asked her to marry him.
"He asked me to meet him at the jewelry store and we picked out a ring, which I still wear," said Huffaker, 86, of Casper. "It was a wonderful thrill."
A member of ROTC in college, Huffaker's fiance went into the Army. She and two of her girlfriends decided to enlist together in 1945 - they joined the Navy, WAVES.
Huffaker worked in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, making sure veterans got their checks.
But while in boot training, she went to New York. Her schedule overlapped with her fiance's, and they were able to see each other for one hour before he shipped off to Europe.
"Probably it meant nothing to other people, but it meant a lot to me - because of that one hour," she said.
He went to the Battle of the Bulge and Remagen Bridge.
They wrote as often as possible. She'd tell him about her life, her feelings, update him on family members. He'd write about his duties when he could.
She saved the letters and keeps them at home. Now, she and her daughters are trying to organize it all, put stories in order.
This Honor Flight trip is for her and him. He died in 2004. She knows it's a trip he would have liked to be on.
When she arrived at the World War II Memorial, stepping toward the granite archway, she heard a voice call out, "Mom."
She turned to find her daughter, Jane Morrical, who flew up from Texas for the day to share it with her mom.
"I needed to take a day of leave and just join her for this once-in-a-lifetime chance," she said.
The family took a trip together to Europe in the early 1980s to see the places her father saw during the war. Wednesday was a chance to see the memorial built for both of her parents.
Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
April 12, 1945
Dear Mr. Galles,
When I read the article in tonight's paper about you it made me very happy that I had the pleasure of talking with you and saying "welcome home" this afternoon and taking the telegrams for you.
There is so little we back home can do, and I feel it is a real privilege to do what I can for all of you who have given so much.
My boy will not come home, and working with the fine sons of other mothers helps me to "keep my chin up," and carry on for him.
Save this clipping for your scrap book - your grand-children will be proud of you, too!!
My best wishes will follow you to Wyoming, and always.
Sincerely - Susan M. Daniels (Mrs. George B. Daniels)
It's a letter of a different kind. This one he brought with him.
He's kept it for 64 years. Tuesday and Wednesday, he carried a photocopy to share with his guardian and anyone else who cared to listen.
The ships docked in Marseille, France, and the men convoyed through the Rhone Valley to the Vosges Mountains. By Nov. 1, 1944, Donald Galles was on the front lines.
Nov. 15, they broke through German winter defenses. Three of his friends were wounded, and shrapnel split Galles' helmet.
While trying to take out German machine gun nets five days later, they were hit with a heavy artillery barrage. A tank commander had his head blown off. A few feet away from Galles, heavy artillery shot through his friend's lower leg. He later died.
A chunk of burning shrapnel cut into Galles' left leg. When the shooting stopped, a lieutenant pulled Galles back for first aid.
He lay in traction for three and a half months.
April 12, 1945 - the day President Franklin Roosevelt died - Galles arrived in the U.S. in a full body cast.
He lay in a hospital bed in South Carolina when a group of women came walking through the ward. They asked if there was anything they could do for the soldiers.
Yes, Galles told one. He asked her to send a telegram to his family saying he was back in America.
The woman, Susan, obliged and then saw an article about Galles in the paper. It wasn't until he got her letter that he knew her own son had died.
"All of a sudden I just burst into tears," said Galles, 84, of Casper. "That part there came as a shock.'
He received a Combat Infantry Badge, Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Wednesday, as the Honor Flight veterans toured their memorial, he wore his medals. Usually kept in a display case in his home office, they were pinned to his T-shirt, right over his heart.
Just after 9 p.m. Wednesday, veterans got off the plane, less than 40 hours after the trip began.
In the terminal, guardians stood in two rows, creating a hallway of people as the veterans walked past. It was quiet, until they turned the corner.
A band played music. Packs of school children shouted, waved miniature flags and applauded. Men stood in a tight row, holding large American flags.
They built a human corridor all the way to baggage claim.
It was like that the whole trip - an outpouring of thanks most of these veterans hadn't gotten before.
As Scott Hutchinson, 80, of Casper, walked through the crowd, a quiet little girl walked up to him and handed him a paper sack.
She didn't say anything, just looked up at him. He leaned down and said, "Thank you."
He didn't open it until he got home. Inside was an orange, two cookies, small candies and a letter written in pencil on a 4-by-6-inch notecard:
Thank you for fating the war for us
I'm so glad y srvive.
He wishes he knew who she was so he could thank her. It meant more to him than she could have known.
"I know I've seen a lot in my 80 something years, but that little girl, I'll never forget that face," Hutchinson said.
He'll carry the letter with him - to remember.
Contact Margaret Matray at 307-266-0535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.