Gene Maddux enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marines in the midst of World War II, serving more than four years on the waters of the Atlantic.
"He was not one to boast," said Gene's daughter, Linda Wehmeyer. "Only in the later years did I find out what a danger it was."
And when the first Honor Flight took off, Gene was on board--and it was a day that changed his life.
"He said he thought he would send his name in, and see what happens," said Gwen, Gene's wife. "And what happens was the best thing that ever happened to him."
Gene's daughter surprised him at the airport in St. Louis.
"This is the best day that ever happened," said Gene.
The best day he ever had: strong words from someone who'd been around for more than eight decades.
"And he's been thrilled over it ever since," said Gwen.
But Gene's best day was only the beginning. He was there to greet the bus at the Honor Flight homecoming the next time, and the time after that. Not once, not twice, but *eighteen times*. At ten o'clock...at midnight...even into the wee hours of the morning...
"A lot of times past our bedtime," said Gwen.
Gene was there, personally greeting nearly 600 veterans.
"Well, I like to see the fellas' faces when they get off of it," said Gene. "And you see the big crowd--and I know that's how I felt when I got off the first one. I saw all these people, the flags are waving, you see all them little kids and grownups waving the flag--it made you proud to be an American."
Even as his health declined, Gene was still there, standing at the edge of the red carpet.
"I think that invigorated him. He always felt better when he was around those guys."
Recently, Gene's health took a turn for the worse, and he was moved to hospice care at his daughter's house. As his time grew short, riders from the Patriot Guard came out to pay their respects, pulling up right outside his window.
"He was just beside himself," said Gwen.
"We will remember that the rest of our lives," said Linda.
"I don't know what to say--but it's been an honor, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Gene.
Just a few days later, Gene died, and was laid to rest on Friday, August 2nd.
An escort to the cemetery by the Patriot Guard.
"Dad would've been so proud," said Linda.
And a burial with full military honors.
"We were so impressed," said Linda. "We have never seen--with the military out there, and the Patriot Guard."
"Right now, I'm very, very at ease," said Gwen. "I don't see how anybody could feel anything else but that."
"He loved his country, he loved his family, he loved my mother," said Linda. They were so happy together. He will be so missed."
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