Recently my 92 year old father, a WWII veteran, was privileged to participate in an Honor Flight to Washington, DC, and my husband Bob went with him as his guardian. It was an amazing experience for both of them! To say that my Dad was blessed by the experience would be an understatement!
The purpose of Honor Flight is to honor the veterans of the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War eras. It began in 2005 and has grown exponentially since then. Honor Flight Network is a non-profit umbrella organization with local chapters and hubs under it. The veterans are flown round trip to Washington, DC at no expense to themselves to see the respective memorials of the wars they fought in. In addition, each veteran has a guardian who accompanies them; someone who is there to meet their every need. The guardians pay for their own transportation costs.
|Waiting to head out|
My dad and husband flew with the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight hub out of Springfield, IL. What an amazing organization! I had no idea this was happening in my own backyard, so to speak!
It is a whirlwind day of never to be forgotten sight seeing and recognition. While my dad was at the WWII memorial a number of total strangers came up to him, thanked him, and some even asked if he would mind if they took a picture of him with their families! He was so touched!
Each veteran, depending on which war he served in, is given a color coded t-shirt making them easily recognizable at the various memorials. WWII veterans wore blue t-shirts that said, “If you can read, thank a teacher. If you can read in English, thank a veteran.” Korean War vets wore yellow shirts that said, “Freedom is not free. Thank a veteran.” And the red t-shirts worn by Vietnam vets said, “All gave some. Some gave all. Thank a veteran.” All the guardians wore the same green t-shirts and had a quote attributed to Will Rogers on the back. “Not all of us can be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”
|Here at the WWII memorial they are gathering for a group picture.|
The day began very early. They had to be at the airport by 4:45 AM and didn’t arrive back at the airport until 9:30 PM. They visited various memorials; World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, The Marine Corp Memorial, The Air Force Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (and witnessed the Changing of the Guard) and the Space and Science Museum.
|This guardian gave a pin to my dad; a Navy flag intertwined with an American flag. He wanted to give it to a Navy veteran. My dad was so touched by the gesture and wore it on his cap.|
My brother, who lives near DC, met them at the World War II Memorial. How pleased my dad was to share this experience with him!
One of the surprises for the veterans were the letters they received from family, friends, and even school children thanking them for their service. On the trip home each veteran was given the package with letters that had been written ahead of time specifically for them. My dad received almost 30 letters. Reading through some of them brought tears to my eyes. He told me those letters of thanks were, without a doubt, the high point of the whole trip!
|My dad and another WWII vet.|
When the plane landed my daughter Anna and I, my son in law, Brian, and his son, Calvin, met the plane. There were hundreds of people on hand to welcome home the returning veterans and their guardians. Volunteers from the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight said they had never seen this many people come out to welcome home a flight. The parking lot was overflowing and makeshift parking spaces were needed. What an experience! I tried to shake the hand of every single veteran and thank them for their service. It wasn’t unusual to see tears in their eyes, both the vets and their guardians…especially the veterans of Vietnam, who did not receive anything even remotely approaching a welcome, (often the opposite!), when they returned home from that conflict so many years ago.
My dad kept saying over and over how loved he felt. When we saw him several days later he told me he will never forget that day. Just mentioning it brought a smile to his face and tears to his eyes.
If you know a veteran of WWII, Korea, or Vietnam make it your mission to encourage them to go on an honor flight. For a veteran to be eligible to go he must have served in the Armed Forces during the years of conflict but he doesn’t have to have served directly in a combat zone.
And if there’s an honor flight hub near where you live go be a part of the welcome home. It will be a privilege and an honor you won’t soon forget.