LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) – Saturday was the 11th mission of the La Crosse Freedom Honor Flight.
Since 2008, the flight has taken World War II and Korean War veterans to the nation's capitol – free of charge – to see the memorials built in their honor.
"It's an opportunity never had when they completed their time in service. So, for us to give them the opportunity to go back and look at the monuments that were built in their honor that they can enjoy, and then get back here and share the day with their family, it's a pretty special activity," said Pat Stephens, one of the Freedom Honor Flight directors.
Veterans received a sendoff from area Boy Scouts, cadets and members of the military.
About 25 World War II veterans boarded Saturday's flight.
Among them, Albert Bott, who saw American flags and loved ones cheering him on at the sendoff.
That's not what he saw in 1943 as a World War II Army Engineer.
"We didn't get into the Army Engineers very long and we could see that there was a desperate need, and that the casualties had been expanded extravagantly," Bott said.
Bott enlisted in World War II right after high school, guaranteed a year of college if he joined the Engineers.
As an Army Engineer, Bott said he was largely responsible for entrenching the artillery, including the big guns and field artillery.
These were some of the skills he used serving under General George Patton in the Battle of the Bulge. A battle he described as "day after day of defensive fighting."
He fought in the dead of winter, without winter clothing. To stay warm, he slept under an explosives truck that was strafed by a German plane.
Bott wrote home to his grandmother about the experience.
"Dire trouble and I don't think I'm gonna survive this," Bott said of the letter. "And I wouldn't have if she didn't make me a handmade sweater. She made me a hat, knit, heavy."
"For three to four weeks I ate with the same hands that I had treated my friends, their wounds. That I had cleaned up their body messes," Bott said.
In 1945, World War II ended.
After fighting for freedom, Bott now takes the Freedom Honor Flight, seeing the memorials made in veterans' honor.
Bott has been to D.C. before, but said being able to see the memorials alongside his fellow veteran is a special experience.
Even after the grand sendoff, he too has some parting words: "You gave me my chance; you gave me support in the war. Thanks, America."
His guardian on the trip is his daughter Susan, who is also a veteran.
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