VALDOSTA -- It's taken 15 long years, but veterans from the surrounding area will be able to travel in style and comfort for their medical appointments at the VA Medical Center in Lake City, Fla., starting on July 1.

A new bus will be taking veterans the medical center. It has 36 seats designed for adults just like the seats found on bus lines such as Greyhound and Trailways. There are fold-out trays mounted on the back of the seats. Another important addition, especially during the summer, is air-conditioning.

For about 15 years, area veterans have made the 135-mile trip to Lake City in a 20-year-old school bus designed for children. A majority of the veterans are from World War II and are 75 years old and older.

Most can't drive that distance and many of their spouses cannot make the trip, said Whit Chappell, president of the Lowndes County Veterans Council.

"The new bus is a dream come true for the members of the Veteran Activities Committee," Chappell said. "The committee is a collation of all the veterans' organizations and concerned citizens who saw a need to provide transportation to the VA Medical Center."

The bus is from the Blue Bird Bus Company and will be dedicated at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Museum of Colquitt County History. It will be available for viewing by the public.

The bus became a reality due to efforts and contributions by the citizens of Brooks, Colquitt, Lowndes and Thomas Counties, Chappell said.

The new bus makes its first trip July 1. The bus will leave every Thursday from the Moultrie VFW post at 7 a.m. It will pick up veterans in Coolidge, Thomasville, Boston and Quitman before arriving in Valdosta at about 8 a.m. at the Shell Truck Stop on Highway 84 for a rest stop. Then it will head to Florida; if arrangements are made ahead of time, it can pick up veterans in Jennings, Fla.

The bus should arrive in Lake City at about 9:30 a.m., and will return to Moultrie at about 6 p.m.

On average there have been about 26-28 veterans making the weekly trip to Lake City. Chappell believes the new bus will make the ride more pleasant, making it possible for more veterans to go to the medical center in Lake City.

To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.

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