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WWII veteran takes honor flight to D.C.

Photo submitted Lyle Kellaher visited Washington, D.C. Sept. 17 as part of the Freedom Honor Flight program, which honors veterans with a trip to the nation's capital. Pictured above, Kellaher is shown with Elizabeth Dole.

When Lyle Kellaher, a WWII veteran, got a letter explaining he was selected for a Freedom Honor Flight, he was surprised.

"Someone put my name in, but I don't know who did it," he said.

Freedom Honor Flight, an organization based in La Crosse, honors veterans by flying them to Washington, D.C. for a day to visit the memorials that stand in their honor.

Kellaher, who took the flight on Sept. 17, said it was a special experience.

"We had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get ready for the flight," he said. "There was a big crowd to see us off and an even bigger one to welcome us when we landed."

About 300 people visited Washington, D.C. as part of the program, Kellaher said. The group traveled on four large buses and had police escorts wherever they went, he said. Each attendee was assigned an escort and was wheeled around from memorial to memorial.

"They kind of did make you feel like a celebrity," he said.

Kellaher said he was able to visit the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the Iwo Jima Memorial, also known as the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.

It wasn't Kellaher's first time to the nation's capital. Kellaher said he and his son, Lynn, visited several years ago.

"It's changed quite a bit since then," he said. "The WWII Memorial wasn't there at that time."

It's impossible to pick a favorite memory from the trip, Kellaher said.

"The whole thing was special," he said.

Kellaher said the WWII Memorial, which is about the size of a full city block, was his favorite of the memorials.

While there, Kellaher met a fellow veteran from Glenwood City. He was also able to visit with Elizabeth Dole.

"I gave her a huge hug," he said. "I told her it was an honor to give her a hug. She said, 'No, you've got it wrong. It's an honor to give you a hug.'"

At one point, Kellaher said a crowd had gathered to honor the veterans. He said one little girl, who was probably about 2 years old, was gesturing to him. He said he was unsure what she wanted, but her mother explained.

"She said the girl wanted to give me a kiss," he said. "So I picked her up and gave her a big kiss. I wish I would've gotten a picture of that."

Kellaher said that the day was completely exhausting, but he'd do it again in a heartbeat.

"I would do it again any time," he said.