William E. “Bo” Bradfield could have attended any number of Veterans Day celebrations taking place Wednesday in his hometown of LaGrange, Ga.
Instead, the 88-year-old former Air Force pilot caught a bus to the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park in Columbus where he and 43 other veterans were treated to a special tour and luncheon.
Batson-Cook Construction — the West Point, Ga., firm that built the $91 million museum — organized the trip, called Honor Bus. Paul Meadows, with Batson-Cook, said Honor Bus was conceived as a way to give back to those who have served this nation.
“It’s just a special day to honor them,” Meadows said. “A day to really let them know how much we appreciate what they’ve done for their country.”
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In celebration of its first Veterans Day, the five-month-old museum provided visitors young and old with plenty to see and do. By 9:30 a.m., every open exhibit and gallery in the 185,000-square-foot structure was abuzz with activity. In the lobby, historians dressed in period costumes showed off a collection of World War I weapons and artifacts while several hundred Infantry basic trainees filed obediently into the IMAX theater to catch the debut of the first two episodes of “WWII in HD,” a new History Channel documentary.
Some of those young soldiers, members of Delta Company 2-54, took time out before viewing the movie to salute the arriving party of Honor Bus veterans as they made their way to the museum’s entrance.
“This whole structure was built really to honor the veterans and honor the Infantry warrior and it’s very special to be able to bring them over here and see the exhibits that are out there,” Meadows said.
“It’s just a great place to come and for them to reminisce and think about old times.”
Bradfield, who flew for the 10th Air Force during World War II, was thinking of old times when he discovered an exhibit in the museum’s World War II Gallery dedicated to the 5307th Composite Unit — better known as Merrill’s Marauders.
“I was a troop carrier pilot for Merrill’s Marauders,” he said. “I had to take food and ammo to them in Burma. One never forgets an experience like that. I was just trying to do my job, though.”