One thing I'm hoping that comes from this is an interest or awareness about the Honor Flight program in Utah. —Lynn Labrum
ROOSEVELT — Lynn Labrum's story is a familiar one for those who came of age in 1940s America.
"I graduated in May, and in June I was in Texas in the Army," said Labrum, who will tell you he is 88 ½ years old.
"That half is important when you're my age," he said with a chuckle.
In 1943, though, Labrum was a young man who wanted to join the Army Air Corps.
"The last thing in the physical was the blood pressure, and I couldn't pass it," he said, recalling how he went back to have his blood pressure taken three times in one day to try to pass.
It didn't work.
Labrum would spend World War II fighting the Japanese on the ground rather than in the air.
"I became a mechanic for the 25th (Infantry) Division, Reconnaissance Troop," the Bronze Star recipient said. "We were considered the eyes and ears for the division."
Labrum survived the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines, which left 8,310 Allied soldiers dead and 29,560 wounded, and took part in the occupation of Japan before returning home to Roosevelt.
Not all of his friends were so lucky. Those who were are no longer alive.
"Right here in Roosevelt, there was six of us that run around together," Labrum said, his voice becoming thick with emotion. "I'm the only one left."
That's why the work being done by the Honor Flight Network has taken on such a sense of urgency. The Ohio nonprofit organization foots the entire bill for veterans from America's wars to visit their respective memorials in the nation's capital.
The organization is focused almost exclusively on World War II veterans at present because of the speed with which they are passing away.
An estimated 16.1 million Americans served in uniform during World War II. Today, about 1.2 million of those veterans are still alive. But they're dying at a rate of about 600 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In late June, Labrum took part in an Honor Flight with a group of veterans from Reno, Nev., because the program does not have a regional hub in Utah. It's something Labrum's family would like to see change.
"One thing I'm hoping that comes from this is an interest or awareness about the Honor Flight program in Utah," said Labrum's grandson, Colby Jenkins, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who grew up in Roosevelt and now lives in Washington, D.C.
"It might generate interest in Utah for building something similar for Utah veterans," he said.
Jenkins and his mother accompanied Labrum on his visit to the World War II Memorial, an experience the elderly veteran described as "one of the greatest days I've ever had."
"I never thought it would happen," he said, referring to the long-awaited construction of the memorial, which was opened to the public in April 2004.
"Somebody overdone themselves," Labrum said. "It's beautiful."