From the time World War II began on Dec. 7, 1941, until it ended on May 8, 1945, when the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, more than 16 million American soldiers sacrificed everything to assure victory.
Nevin Sledge of Cleveland is a member of that generation and was one of many who served his country as a pilot in the Pacific Theater during the war.
One thing that made this generation great was that when these men and women returned from the war, none came home looking for honors.
They fought solely for their country and to ensure to freedoms that we so gladly have as Americans today.
Earlier this week, Sledge, along with nearly 100 of his WWII veteran comrades, were honored for their service.
Not in the usual way of a local parade or a simple ceremony on the steps of the local courthouse, but with an all expense paid trip to our nation's capital thanks to numerous volunteers and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight.
"It was just a great experience," said Sledge by phone from his Cleveland home. "Prior to leaving the Gulf Coast for Washington, I had spoken with Julius Gainspoletti on several occasion about the trip."
Gainspoletti, another WWII veteran from Cleveland, had made the same trip last spring.
"He kept telling me how exciting the trip was but I believe it was even better than I ever imagined," Sledge said. "I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity."
Sledge, who drove himself to Gulfport the day before the flight, said that when he arrived at the airport at around five that morning that he was bombarded by flashing lights.
"My first thought was that of worry," said Sledge. "I thought that there must have been a horrible accident to have so many lights flashing."
As he crept up the drive closer to the airport, he saw the sign – "Welcome WWII Veterans."
"That was an emotional experience," he continued. "There must have been 50-60 police, sheriff and other emergency personnel vehicle there to welcome us."
Walking into the airport for departure, Sledge and his fellow comrades were greeted with much of the same excitement.
"It was five in the morning and there were people everywhere greeting us before our flight departed," said Sledge. "They were young and old and they were there to greet us."
When the plane touched down in Washington, D.C., the scene was similar to that in Gulfport.
"We were greeted in Washington by hundreds of people and a band was playing for our arrival," he added. "Everywhere we went, people were cheering for us."
Sledge said that Washington is an exceptional city and that even though he had been there many times, it had been nearly 25 years since his last visit.
"We visited all of the memorials, which was great because many of them had not even been built the last time I was there," he said.
The memorials visited included the WWII memorial and Arlington Cemetery.
Sledge said that while the visit to Washington was great, it was the return trip home that really made the experience special.
"In plane on the way home, I was handed a large envelope that stuffed full of what must have been 100 letters," he said. "There were letters from my friends in Cleveland, from school children of all ages and others that were just so very nice. I still haven't had the chance to finish them all but I am so very thankful for everyone of them."
Landing back at the airport in Gulfport, Sledge said, "there must have been thousands of people there to welcome us home.
"Some of the people there were family members of those of us on the flight and I remember thinking how special it would be if some my family were there," Sledge continued. "I remember that it was about that time that I saw my son Wilson behind the glass. That was really a special moment for me that I will never forget."
Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight is a non-profit program honoring the service and sacrifices of America’s 'Greatest Generation' - our World War II veterans.
Sledge said that it was really a great experience and that the organization should be congratulated on putting together search a wonderful, well-organized event.
"I am so very fortunate to have been able to take part in this honor," he concluded. "Over the years many of my friends and comrades have passed never to be able to see this. It is a great honor and I am so very grateful to have had this unique opportunity."