WALNUT CREEK -- When Chuck Smith joined the Navy in 1943, he was part of an officers training program so expeditious that its graduates were dubbed "90-day wonders."

"They had to rush us through," said Smith, 90, who served in World War II.

This weekend, Smith will be rushed again. This time in a good way.

Through the auspices of Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization that transports veterans from all over the country to Washington, D.C., Smith will spend the weekend in the nation's capital.

The Walnut Creek resident will be one of 32 veterans on a flight leaving San Francisco on Friday morning, and his son Bryan Smith will be one of the traveling party's 18 trained guardians.

Charles Smith, 90, of Walnut Creek, a Navy veteran who served in World War II, holds up a photo of himself in the Navy in 1942, in Walnut Creek, Calif.,
Charles Smith, 90, of Walnut Creek, a Navy veteran who served in World War II, holds up a photo of himself in the Navy in 1942, in Walnut Creek, Calif., Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Smith is scheduled for a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II monument on the Washington Mall, arranged by the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit that arranges for veterans to visit Washington, D.C., with priority given to senior veterans. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff) (DAN ROSENSTRAUCH)

On Friday night, the veterans will have a banquet. On Saturday, they'll tour Arlington Cemetery, where they will see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; the Pentagon; the World War II Memorial; the Vietnam Wall; and the Lincoln Memorial.

"They've promised us a wonderful time," Chuck Smith said.

It's all in a day's work, said Tom Johnson, head of Honor Flight Network's hub in Anderson, just south of Redding.

"They're a life-changing experience," Johnson said of the trips, which are funded through donations. "The vets come home different people, a lot of them."


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Honor Flight Network was founded in 2005 in Washington, D.C. Since then, regional hubs have been established in 40 states. Veterans apply for trips, which are taken when funding is available. When Johnson established his hub in 2008, he had 1,800 applications before the first trip got off the ground.

Smith's experience figures to be a fitting postscript to perhaps the most agreeable duty any service member experienced during World War II. Admitted to the Navy despite being color blind -- "That's how desperate they were," he said -- he was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea on an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry). As his unit neared the Strait of Gibraltar they were informed that the D-Day invasion had been initiated. Shortly thereafter, Smith's ship was called to battle stations for the one and only time during his service.

"I was so glad nothing happened," he said.

They arrived in France just as the Germans were retreating.

"We got to invade the French Riviera," Smith said. "The Germans left. We had liberty by noon. It sounds like I'm making this up."

Smith's LCI rotated between Italy, North Africa and France. Once home, Smith requested to be assigned to a bigger ship and wound up on an LST (Landing Ship Tank; or as he called it, Long Slow Target).

His ship was assigned to the Pacific theater and arrived in Japan just after war's end. He's thankful for his opportunity to see "three-quarters of the world" under relatively benign circumstances.

"I had a gun, but I never fired at anything except in exercises," he said. "If I ever had to design a trip where I was supposed to go through opposition and survive, this was it."

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.