They are part of the greatest generation. Roughly 30,000 men who served in World War II are living in Georgia. Many have never seen the memorial dedicated to their efforts in Washington, DC. Nonprofit Honor Flight is changing that.
They offer veterans a 'Tour of Honor' in our nation's capital to see their memorial and others, all free of charge.
CBS Atlanta reporter Jennifer Mayerle is the first Atlanta reporter to go along with Honor Flight Conyers. Wednesday, Sept. 25, she will travel to DC with 25 WWII veterans.
She has the back story of one of them.
"It still fits," Freeman Barber said as he put on a jacket.
The Army issued the jacket to Barber 70 years ago after he was drafted at age 18.
"I had a friend who was a major in WWII and he was on the draft board and he said, 'Freeman, I want to tell you you're being drafted,' And I said, 'Thanks a lot,'" Barber said.
The New York-born barber trained at Camp Polk, LA. He was a tanker man who became ill with pneumonia and shipped out later than planned.
"It saved my life, and the fact that the fellas that I went in training with were sent overseas and they landed at D-Day, and most of them died," Barber said.
Barber will tell you there were two other instances where his life was saved.
"All of a sudden I heard a chunk and that shell missed head about that much. I could hear it shoo right over my steel helmet. How did I survive? Luck," Barber said.
Barber arrived in Europe for the end of the Battle of the Bulge with the 8th Armored Division. They went on to Rheinberg, where his tanker unit served as CCR, or Combat Command Reserve.
"They knocked out 41 of our tanks that night going down the road. That picture is taken as we were leaving the next day and you can see the burning tanks on the side. That was something else, we lost a lot of guys," Barber said.
At the end of the war, Barber helped liberate one of the Buchenwald concentration camps - a memory he chooses to rarely reflect upon.
"They didn't know the gates were open. Many of them couldn't move they were so starved. And to see the ovens and what they did, the gas chambers," Barber said.
The Private First Class said he fought for our country because it was the right thing to do.
"It was my duty when I was drafted. I didn't go and ask for an exception. I would have accepted one, but I didn't ask for one. And I felt, and I think I felt kind of honored to go with a group of guys that would go out and do that," Barber said.
Whatever impact WWII had on Barber's life, his life is not defined by those years, but rather by the rich life he lived after the war, which includes his wife, their three kids and four grandchildren.
"I met this little blonde, and this is my wife now, and she was very energetic and positive and everything and I said, 'Oh, that's one I haven't met before.' Got married in 1952, this year, Oct. 11 will be our 61st anniversary. So still going strong, had a great life," Barber said.
Barber retired around age 65 and worked another 20 years as a locksmith, until 85, when he said he started slowing down a bit.
Barber said he's honored and grateful to be included in this trip and became emotional just thinking about it.
Join CBS Atlanta News Thursday, Sept. 26 at 11 p.m. for a look at the memorable journey that Barber and 24 other local WWII veterans experienced in our nation's capital.
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World War II veteran reflects upon service, life after the warMore>>
They are part of the greatest generation. Roughly 30,000 men who served in World War II are living in Georgia. Many have never seen the memorial dedicated to their efforts in Washington, DC. More >
They are part of the greatest generation. Roughly 30,000 men who served in World War II are living in Georgia. Many have never seen the memorial dedicated to their efforts in Washington, DC. Nonprofit Honor Flight is changing that.More >
Monday, September 1 2014 11:00 PM EDT2014-09-02 03:00:16 GMT
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