I’ve been participating in the Honor Flight program for a little over a year now. At no cost to them, we take World War II veterans to Washington, DC for the day so that they can visit the WWII memorial. Very few have ever seen it, many have never been to Washington, DC and some have never flown on an airplane. Many died before it was built. Many more will die before we have the chance to get them there.
One of my roles is that of guardian, serving as escorts and guides for the vets for the day. Today I was working on the ground crew. I was at the airport at 0530 helping the vets and the guardians get ready for the flight. A friend recently wrote and said in part
Glad you don’t feel weird about doing it. I’d feel awkward as can be. Now, if I was accompanying vets to go drive a tank or something that would be fun. But the reminiscing, emotional support…wow.
Real honestly, it isn’t easy for me, mostly because I’m such an introvert. But these guys are stronger than you’d think. Some of them break down, but that is usually one of us. Most vets have never told their stories. Many die having never shared with anyone – even their own wives and families – what they did. It isn’t that they aren’t proud of their service, but rather they went to war because they believed it was their duty because they love their country. Those who came home considered themselves fortunate, or worse. They were almost always greeted with a small amount of cash and a bus ticket back to their hometown. They got jobs, raised families, and often served in their churches and communities. Many who know them don’t even know they’re veterans.
This trip serves so many purposes. Not only is it our way to say “thank you” but it is a chance for them to open up to their families and share the stories, and the demons, that they have held onto for 60 years. We bring them home to their families in the evening and provide a kind of homecoming at the airport they never expected or believed they deserved. Typically a few hundred people turn out just to stand in a line and say “thank you”.
On a recent trip, my vet – the one I was assigned to as a guardian – told me that when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was only 17. Two days after that awful December Sunday, he signed up – volunteered to go to war for his country. That kind of selflessness is an inspiration. I don’t want to get up at 0430, I don’t really want to be social as it were. Then I stop and realize that these things do not even rise to the level of a minor inconvenience. It is an honor and a privilege to serve these men (and occasional woman) for just one day.