Thursday, May 27, 2010
MEMORIAL HONOR FLIGHT
Honor Flight Welcome, Washington DC
Victory Dance, Washington DC
I was recently on a connecting flight into Washington DC on the weekend prior to Memorial Day. Looking out the window, I noticed a series of flags that represented the military services of our country including the black POW flag leading up to the gate next to our jet way. When I deplaned, I asked a gate agent what was happening next door. He explained that they were awaiting an Honor Flight of American veterans from Jacksonville, Florida. This non-profit organization flies vets to DC every Tuesday and Saturday at no charge, takes them to Arlington National Cemetery and then finishes at the war memorials. Some share their story for the first time since the war for the national archives. Over 16 million veterans served in WWII and while about 2 million are still with us, one thousand now pass away every day and their story may be lost to history. This greatest generation of ordinary Americans responded to a world crisis with extraordinary courage.
I checked in at my departure gate and noticed the US Airways plane moving past the flagged area to the jet way. Then the men and a few women began to emerge through the doorway into the terminal. A special group of volunteers immediately hugged them and/or shook their hands. They wore shirts printed with “Honor Flight Ground Crew” and a quote by Will Rogers; “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us get to stand on the curb and clap as they go by”. A men’s group in blue blazers broke out into the fight song of every branch of the service as they identified the insignia’s on the vet’s hats and sometimes their actual uniforms that still fit. Then these veterans were greeted to an honor guard of about 50 uniformed young service men who directed them through the terminal. Fellow travelers instinctively were drawn to the welcome party and stayed to clap along with the singing and took photographs with their business Blackberries and photo cell phones. Men were deplaning with the help of walkers, wheelchairs and care givers. Some of the care givers appeared to be proud spouses and adult children. Without exception, all of those walking off the jet way broke into a spontaneous broad smile with eyes wide open. A few briefly cried. One especially spry man with a black cane spontaneously danced as he walked into the honor guard’s smiling rows on either side of the exit way. The scene was an instant explosion of emotion for everyone who was drawn into the moment.
Reading a USA Today Memorial Day article made the fresh memory of this serendipitous scene even more poignant. When told that he was considered a national hero, the aging vet simply stated that he did his job. “Those that didn’t make it”, he said, “are the heroes”. “I just look at Memorial Day as more than crosses in a field. Those are people on both sides”.