"There's no central repository of that data," said Jeff Bradley of Hilton Head Island, a volunteer coordinator for Honor Flight Savannah, a chapter of the national Honor Flight Network. That nonprofit organization honors veterans with a free trip to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial and other national monuments.
Priority is given to World War II veterans and veterans with a terminal illness.
Owen Hand of Lady's Island chairs the Honor Flight Savannah board. His Beaufort Rotary Club started contributing to it before the first local flight took place in October 2009. Since then, more than 100 veterans from Georgia and South Carolina have made what is usually a one-day trip by plane or train.
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"We encourage veterans to let us know how we can get in touch with them," Hand said.
Gene Sullivan of Hilton Head also is looking for World War II veterans to be honored at the Memorial Day observance May 30 at Veterans Memorial Park.
"This year we would like to reach out to all of our local World War II veterans and give them the recognition they so well deserve at the ceremony," said Sullivan, who will chair the event for the Navy League of the U.S. Hilton Head Island Council.
"I have tried for several years to contact our World War II veterans, but there is no source that I have been able to find to locate them," Sullivan said.
When five veterans took an Honor Flight trip in a donated private jet from Hilton Head Island Airport last month, they walked through two columns of clapping, cheering, whistling supporters to climb aboard. NJROTC cadets from Hilton Head Island High School were there for the 6:30 a.m. departure. So were friends and other veterans.
"It was a real picture," said Bradley, whose two sons are West Point graduates serving in the U.S. Army. "They came out with grins from ear to ear. They cocked their shoulders back, and you could see it put a spring in their step.
"It was a classic, classic little bit of American patriotism."
Lucien Bruce, 95, of Hilton Head was on the trip. He was a quartermaster at Camp Lee, Va., during World War II, doing limited service because of a high school football injury.
"It was a wonderful trip," Bruce said. "They took care of us beautifully."
At the World War II Memorial, they were met by generals and an admiral.
America wants to say "thanks" to veterans, but it first must know who to thank.