Earl Pritchard, from Crowville, credits Forever Young Senior Veterans for bringing peace and joy back to his life, with a single trip to his beloved ship: USS Missouri.
Established in 2006, Forever Young Senior Veterans is a non-profit organization based out of Memphis. It honors World War II, Korean and Vietnam War veterans by taking them on all-expense paid trips to locations where they served. Washington D.C., Pearl Harbor, Normandy and Belgium have been destinations sponsored by the organization.
Recently, Forever Young Senior Veterans took a group which included Pritchard to Pearl Harbor. Pritchard’s ship, the USS Missouri, was the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan which ended World War II. Pritchard was a 50mm gunner on the ship.
The trip back to the USS Missouri was an emotional one for Pritchard.
“When we were on our way to the ship, Earl was very emotional and nervous,” said Diane Hight, founder and president of Forever Young Senior Veterans. “When he got on board, he started crying and showing us around the boat.”
Pritchard admits the return trip to the USS Missouri helped him in many ways.
“It makes you a better man, and I care more about people,” Pritchard said. “I got to a point where everyday was just another day. It was just another routine day. Now, I find myself a happier person, and it is because Forever Young Senior Veterans.”
Pritchard said Hight and her organization was a blessing to his life.
“Diane is such a wonderful person,” Pritchard said.
Along with group trips, the organization grants individual wishes.
One such wish was to a 95-year-old Navy veteran who wanted to throw the first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. The veteran was pitching in the minor leagues when he voluntary left to fight in World War II.
After Hight made many calls, the St. Louis Cardinals allowed the veteran to throw out the first pitch. He sent the ball to the catcher’s mitt and left the mound to a standing ovation.
“He called me and said he threw the ball 95 miles per hour,” Hight said. “I told him that was amazing.”
On Forever Young’s first group trip, the organization took 56 veterans to Washington D.C. and spent four days touring the city. Hight said they “took it slow” and saw positive changes in each veteran.
“The trip was perfect,” Hight said. “I saw so much healing on that trip. So many men and woman never talk about their war experience. After they make these trips they start opening up.”
Hight said their first Washington D.C. trip was a success and had 50 more requests for another trip 24 hours after getting home.
“We started raising money for the next trip,” Hight said. “We do as many trips as we can.”
Since its first 2009 trip to Washington D.C., Forever Young Senior Veterans has sponsored over 40 trips. The organization has been to Normandy and Belgium nine times, Pearl Harbor four times and Washington D.C. numerous times.
Forever Young Senior Veteran’s first trip to Normandy was in 2011.
“It was amazing to take them back to where they fought,” Hight said. “On the first trip to Normandy, a paratrooper found his foxhole.”
The organization’s next trip is again to Normandy with 14 World War II veterans ages 93 to 102. The veterans will take part in ceremonies recognizing the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“They are all amazing,” Hight said. “They are all so sharp and great communicators.”
Hight said the 102 year old is from Alabama and has a heavy southern drawl.
“He’s wonderful,” Hight said.
“Its hard for any of us to imagine what it would have been like to take on the German war machine at only 17, 18 or 19 years old,” Forever Young Senior Veterans said on its webpage. “Our boys did. Any they won. But with war comes pain and suffering. When our veterans landed on the beaches of Normandy, it was death and destruction. They’ve sacrificed greatly, many losing their friends on those beaches. Then they sacrificed as they buried the pain and went about their lives. Returning them to Normandy brings them peace and closure. It is now a beautiful land, the people are free and they show their gratitude to our veterans.”
Hight said she and her organization have been bombarded by the national media for the last three weeks leading up to the trip.The media outlets want to cover the veterans which in all possibility will be their last.
“People from all over the world have been calling us,” Hight said. “We have had CNN, ABC, CBS call us.”
Hight said she did not mind all the work and preparation that goes into each group trip.
“They’ve sacrificed enough, now it is time for us to sacrifice for them,” Hight said.
For more information go to www.foreveryoungvets.org.