‘Little general’ connects veterans to places they fought

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Wednesday April 27, 2016 12:01 AM

She is often described as “the little general,” not because she loves war but because she is committed to honoring the veterans who fought them.

Diane Hight, 58, of Colliersville, Tenn., is the founder and president of Forever Young Senior Veterans, a nonprofit organization that takes World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans back to places where they fought to express a heartfelt thanks for their sacrifices.”We want all our veterans to know that they are not forgotten,” said Hight, who spoke recently to some 30 veterans at Country Meadows retirement community in Wyomissing.

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Since 2011, Hight and her husband, Greg, 61, a retired Air Force pilot and currently a pilot for FedEx, have taken about 500 veterans back to Europe on seven trips – to France, Belgium and Italy.”We plan a trip to Pearl Harbor in October, and our next trip in May will be to Normandy and Belgium,” she said.With a natural affinity for senior citizens and a father and uncle who served during World War II and Korea, Hight was inspired about 10 years ago to start her nonprofit. She began by soliciting donations to grant wishes for veterans, similar to those granted by other organizations for sick children or the disabled.In 2009, she also started organizing trips to take veterans to memorials and sites in Washington.The trips are free for veterans, but accompanying family members pay their own expenses.To World War II veteran Jim Weaver, 94, and his wife, Betty Jean, 93, a trip to Italy last April and May with Forever Young was an experience of a lifetime.Their first trip with the nonprofit was in 2009 to Washington.The couple, celebrating their 73rd wedding anniversary this year, moved from Tennessee to Country Meadows in August to be closer to their son, Donald, in Wernersville.An Army Air Corps B-24 pilot, Jim flew 50 missions over parts of Germany and Austria during his service from 1942-45.”Jim is very shy and never talked about his war experience,” Betty said. “The trip opened him up, especially when he connected with military comrades. I learned about things that I never knew before.”That trip was particularly poignant for Jim, who got to see his brother’s name on a cemetery monument – Clifford Weaver, a pilot like Jim, who disappeared during a war mission at the age of 21.”It is risky taking 90-year-olds across the ocean, but we are helped by volunteers, and we have a medical team available,” Hight said.Hight said that every day at 3 p.m. in Bastone, Belgium, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played, and American flags wave with Belgium flags near the sites of the Battle of the Bulge.”The people there do not forget what Americans did for them,” she said. “I want our veterans to know they are still remembered.”Contact Bruce R. Posten: 610-371-5059 orbposten@readingeagle.com.

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