A Day in Washington, D.C.
The Twin Cities Honor Flight is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifices and service. Their mission is to provide the opportunity for elderly veterans to visit the World War II Memorial and other war memorials in Washington, D. C. Each day, according to statistics, some 1,100 of the old WW II vets leave this earth. There are Honor Flight programs in about 38 states.
On Saturday, May 22, 2010, one hundred veterans, with 65 guardians and staff left Humphrey terminal on Sun Country flight 8603 at 6:30 a.m. on this mission. There were veterans from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Army Air Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, Wacs, and Waves. Two videographers and one photographer were along. The pilot also worked the tour as a guardian through the day. After a fine breakfast during the flight, we landed at John Foster Dulles terminal to be greeted by hundreds of cheering flag-wavers who smiled as they touched our hands and hearts with a meaningful phrase: “Thank you for your service.”
The whole flight was incredibly well-organized. Jerry Kyser, a tall guy with a fake sheriff badge, Al, our tour guide, and the ever-present, yellow-shirted guardians kept us fed, provided with bottles of cold water, and in line. Seventy wheelchairs were ready for vets who needed assistance.
We were assigned to platoons and squads according to the three Dillow’s buses we were on. I was Blue 14. Once loaded, we were served lunch during the drive to the Iwo Jima Memorial.
Tour guide Al, who gave informative talks at various times, told about the serious setbacks and deadly fighting required by the brave, determined Marines to take Iwo Jima. We stopped at the Air Force Memorial, designed around three huge towers that vault 240 feet into the sky in a“bomb burst” formation. From the buses, we saw the Pentagon, the Smithsonian Institute, the Capitol, the Navy Memorial, the White House, and other points of interest.
The highlight of this trip was my first visit to the WW II Memorial. It is an absolutely special place, situated between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in the national mall. History records the bitter controversy over whether or not to use this prime national space for such a monument. We salute those who held out against serious protests and counter arguments for this particular construction site. In the most fitting way and place, the memorial symbolizes America’s determination to secure freedom and democracy in this world. When it first opened, an old buddy from the 135th Combat Engineer Battalion called and wondered if our families could perhaps meet there. That didn’t work out, and it has taken these many years to fulfill my dream of visiting this special place. Walking around in the WW II Memorial, looking at everything and reflecting on the 16 million who served in uniform and on the more than 400,000 who gave their lives in the war, I was abruptly accosted by a nicely-dressed, foreign, middle-aged lady. She asked me point blank whether I had been a soldier during the war. When I answered in the affirmative, she said she and her parents were visiting from Belgium and that her father, standing to one side, wanted to meet me. As I said, “Sure,” the old gentleman moved forward toward me with outstretched arms, tearfully greeting and thanking me. He grasped both of my hands and gave me a long, warm hug. Belgium, as you may know, was occupied by Hitler’s forces in 1940 and was under Nazi rule until liberated by the Allied forces. Somehow in this moment of meeting, I seemed to become, at least for their family, a symbol for the Allied military forces responsible for their freedom. We talked for a while, I met his wife and son, took some pictures and we returned to our different paths around the Memorial.
Other sites we visited were: The Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Wall Memorial, and Glenna Goodacre’s Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
Our granddaughter Anne, her husband, Jed, and their four month-old Ellie from Skokie, Ill. met me at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and at two other sites. The loving effort they made to come such a distance to share the day with me is very special. Holding my beautiful great granddaughter, Ellie, was another highlight of the day’s adventure. Following a delicious meal at the American Steak Buffet, the buses drove us to the Dulles >>> Airport for our return trip. The well-rested co-pilot took over. When we arrived at Humphrey Terminal about 11 p.m., we were greeted by a fine band, hundreds of cheering relatives and friends, plus cake and coffee. Jim Skiff, a Navy veteran and my travel companion, and I were back at our apartments at Covenant Village by midnight.
This significant, emotional day was an incredible gift to the old vets! Thanks to those who made the pilgrimage possible. Memorials commemorate people and past events of our great country, but they also remind us of the continuing presence of armed conflict in this world. Working toward justice and peace is an urgent matter. And as a memorial wall has it: “Freedom is not Free.”