MANSFIELD -- Jack Cowell could talk for hours about his trip to Washington D.C., but one word comes up over and over again.
The Richland County Veterans Honor Bus took group of 38 veterans to the nation's capital last month.
Among them were Cowell, a 97-year-old World War II Navy veteran and David Nauman, 93, a Korean War Army veteran.
“I enjoyed every bit of it,” Nauman said. “I didn't know they had that many monuments. That was pretty nice.”
The group left at 6 a.m. on Sept. 10 and made its first stop at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“That was something to see,” Cowell said. “They made a tower 93 feet high because it was Flight 93.”
The bus then proceeded to Washington D.C., where the veterans got dinner and a tour of the city. The group spent the next two days exploring the nation’s capital, seeing monuments like Washington Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial and the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
“Iwo Jima is what gets me, cause I was there on a destroyer escort,” Cowell said.
“It affects you," he said. "You feel it because a lot of guys got killed up there -- on all the islands. World War II, Korean War, a lot of the guys never came back.”
Weimer, who served in the Marines, said he was most struck by the trips to Arlington Cemetery, the Marine Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“All the names up on there -- it’s an amazing amount of people lost during that combat," he said of the Vietnam Veterans wall.
The trip culminated with a trip to Arlington National Cemetery on the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
At 1 p.m. that day, Cowell and Nauman participated in a formal wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Nauman was pushed in a wheelchair by his daughter Janny. Cowell was pushed in a wheelchair by Weimer.
“I was very proud of that,” Nauman said.
According to Dean Krance, director and founder of the Richland County Honor Bus, only three groups got to lay a wreath that day.
Krance founded the Richland County Honor Bus after going on a trip with the Veterans Honor Bus in Ashland County.
"That was just such a thrilling time," he said.
He described his Ashland County counterpart Elaine Hess as his honor bus mentor.
"She's taught me a lot," he said. "She's been there to guide me. If I need some help she’s a phone call away.”
Janny Nauman said she'd recommend the honor bus trip to any service member. Trips are completely free for any veteran who was honorably discharged. Travel, meals, lodging and tickets are all covered by community donations.
“The honor bus is just a fabulous opportunity for veterans to get the recognition that they so deserve,” she said. “As you’re walking around D.C. everywhere you went (people said) 'Thank you for your service.'"
Weimer called the trip a heartwarming and overwhelming experience.
"I get chills talking about it. My hair just stands up," he said. "Every veteran, anybody that's been to service, any branch, they all deserve a chance to go. It's really eye-opening experience.”
Even the return trip contained a special surprise. After the bus got off State Route 71 on to U.S. Route 30, the veterans received a police escort from the Ohio Highway Patrol, Richland County Sheriff's Office, Mansfield Police Department and Ontario Police Department.
“That was unbelievable. It was honorable," Cowell said. "They were proud of what us guys did and I was proud of what they did for us."
The Richland County Veterans Honor Bus is a non-profit organization. Donations to the Richland County Veterans Honor Bus can be dropped off or mailed to the AmVets Post 26 at 1100 West Fourth Street in Mansfield. Please write "ATTN Honor Bus" on the envelope.