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The trip of a lifetime? For Hastings man, it was just that

Everett Turnbull, Hastings, gets hugged by a woman in Washington, D.C., who was thanking him for his service.

The best gift that Hastings man Everett Turnbull ever received didn't come at Christmas.

Rather, it came in October.

Turnbull, a World War II veteran, took an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., for free. He went with about 100 other Minnesota veterans, who spent one day seeing nearly every memorial that could be seen in the nation's capital, including the World War II memorial.

Having been as moved by the trip as he was, Turnbull is now on a mission to spread the word about the trips to other Hastings-area veterans. He wants them to get to experience what he did, and he is encouraging local veterans to call him up so that he can get them started.

Last year, Turnbull had no idea such trips existed.

On a trip to Walmart, though, that all changed. He was walking the aisles while wearing his black POW/MIA hat when he was stopped by Peg Nickolas. She asked him if he had ever heard of the Honor Flight program. He admitted he hadn't. She filled him in, and Turnbull got to work on the paperwork that would make the trip possible.

By Oct. 23, Turnbull was on his way to the airport early in the morning. The plane landed in D.C. just after 11 a.m., and the veterans were greeted at the airport by some 500 people, who were giving away hugs, shaking hands with the veterans, and saluting them. Boy Scout troops and current members of the military lined up in the hallways and saluted the men.

"You have things in life you can't even describe," Turnbull said. "It was so wonderful, seeing all these people with flags, saluting you and giving you hugs. I can't describe the feeling of seeing someone being grateful for what you did.

"It really was the trip of a lifetime."

After landing, the 100 service members and their companions boarded buses and went on a whirlwind tour through the capital. They saw the Vietnam Memorial, where Turnbull found his nephew's name inscribed. They saw the World War II memorial, the Korean Memorial, the Women's Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.

By 11 p.m. that night, the weary travelers had returned to Minneapolis, where they were greeted by family members waving flags and signs.

Turnbull was accompanied by his son, Donald.

Donations from private individuals and major corporations fund the trips. Since 2005, 36,000 veterans have traveled to D.C. for free to see the memorials. The program started in Ohio by a veteran. Based on 2008 statistics, 1,000 World War II veterans are dying every day, many of whom haven't had a chance to see the memorial dedicated to them in 2004.

Turnbull served in the Navy from 1944 to 1947. He spent most of his time in the South Pacific and China.

In the future, trips will honor Korean War veterans, then Vietnam War veterans. The focus right now is on World War II veterans, but veterans from other wars who have terminal illnesses may also get on a trip now.

Turnbull and his wife have long been travelers, but all that stopped just more than a decade ago when Turnbull took ill with cancer.

Since then, trips had been hard to come by.

"I never dreamed I could have done this trip," Turnbull said.

Anyone interested in getting more information on the flights should contact Turnbull at 437-9094. More information can also be found at www.honor