WASHINGTON (AP) — With the World War II Memorial as a backdrop, veterans Josephine and Murray Bussard shared a kiss from their wheelchairs as they commemorated the 68th anniversary of D-Day, and celebrated almost as many years of marriage.
The octogenarians from Springfield, Mo., were among more than 200 veterans flown in Wednesday for a visit to the memorial.
Some of the veterans entered the memorial standing tall. Others, like the Bussards, were pushed in wheelchairs or leaned on canes, displaying a frailty that contrasted with the strength in the stories they told as they paid homage to the June 6, 1944, invasion of France by Allied troops.
Josephine Bussard, 89, proudly announced that Friday marks the 67th anniversary of their wedding, an event that took place, she said, "thanks to me."
At his wife's urging — "Bus ... I like the way you tell it," she said — Murray Bussard, 88, recounted the story of their union while other veterans walked and wheeled around the stone ramps of the monument.
In January 1945, Murray was a machine gunner in the 3rd Marine Division. Josephine was a self-proclaimed "Navy girl" at the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) Yeoman School.
Some nights, Josephine would go to the Marine barracks to play pool.
When Murray saw Josephine waiting for a Greyhound bus one day, he invited her to join him on the Marine bus. With little room to spare onboard, Josephine, then 22, traveled "65 miles sitting on my lap," Murray said, laughing.
Murray had served earlier in the Bougainville campaign but returned to the states after he contracted malaria.
"Thank God that they dropped the atomic bomb," he said, suddenly straight-faced, "because I was supposed to go overseas again."
The couple married on June 8, 1945. They've been together ever since, they said.
"He's just as nice as me," Josephine joked, glancing over at the man in the "Semper Fi" cap.
While it was a day of happy nostalgia for the Bussards, other veterans soberly bore the sharp pain of loss, remembering fallen comrades.
Robert Clark, who flew in from Detroit, spoke proudly about his time as a machine gunner in the 86th Infantry Division Blackhawks until asked why he came to see the memorial.
Choked up, he turned to his son Thomas, who suggested, "The ones who didn't make it?"
The elder Clark's smile returned when he entered the memorial to cheers from 40 fifth-graders from Ashland Elementary School in Manassas, Va., who were chosen for a field trip to the memorial based on essays they wrote about World War II.
Bill Cheolas, who also came from Detroit, had visited the memorial previously at a reunion with his division. At least two of the men with him that day have since passed away.
"So many of us are dying that we hardly have any crowd at all," Cheolas said.
At 18, Cheolas trained as a pilot in Texas before joining the 86th Troop Carrier, airborne division, and dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines in Germany. Despite the memories of those lost, Cheolas said seeing the memorial brought him a sense of peace.
"I can't say I'm having closure," Cheolas said. "I just felt that I needed to come back once more."
The veterans traveled to Washington aboard six flights organized by the private Honor Flight Network. The organization has flown more than 81,000 veterans to the nation's capital since 2005 to visit the memorials for their respective wars, according to its website.
Veterans came from Missouri, Michigan, West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma and Kentucky. Ford Motor Co. funded two of the six participating state groups.