By WILLIAM J. KELLY
Second of two parts.
In Friday’s Democrat I wrote about what the Honor Flight was. Now I will cover the actual flight to Washington, D.C.
It was here, our big day, and at 4:30 a.m. we and our guardians were all at the DFW International Airport – wide awake, believe it or not. I met Sandy Linde-Ellis at 3 a.m. and rode with her to the airport. Talking with her assured me that it was going to be a wonderful trip. Of course I can’t remember being up and about that early for anything.
We were all dressed in our Honor Flight outfits and looked great for guys our age.
An American Airlines person gave us a welcoming talk, as did one of our veterans prior to our boarding the plane. All the people there gave us a big send off as we had the honor of boarding first. It was an enthusiastic send off, and little did we know that there was more to come. The flight was smooth and, as we approached Washington, the pilot told us what we would see out of each side of the plane. It was a beautiful sight and Judy and I took pictures through our window. They came out very nice.
The pilot made a very smooth landing, and as we taxied in toward the gate I saw two fire trucks waiting there. I was a bit concerned until they suddenly turned on their water hoses and aimed the water over our plane, giving us a surprise welcome. A first for me!
That was just the beginning, for as we entered the airport there was a big crowd of people smiling, cheering, clapping and saying thank you for your service as we walked or were wheel-chaired through them. A military ensemble lined up on both sides of the aisle played the service songs as we passed through. It was a very emotional moment for me and the others because we had never experienced anything like that before – the first time in over 65 years. It brought a tear to my eye. I will never forget that moment.
That welcome sure got us in a happy mood for the rest of the day. We then boarded a beautiful tour bus and headed for our first stop, the World War II Memorial. You could see the excitement in the veterans’ eyes as we approached the monument. This is what we came to see, and we were not disappointed.
It was fabulous, not only in structure but in location. It was sandwiched between monuments to two great men, George Washington, our first president and known as The Father of Our Country, and Abraham Lincoln, the president who led the fight to keep our country unified. That alone was a great honor to the more than 400,000 men who perished and the 16 million who served. You may have noticed that liberty does not come cheap.
We entered the monument at the Pacific Pavilion, on the floor of which was the World War II Victory Medal, and went past the state pillars to the freedom walls’ Field of Stars Memorial to the 400,000 WWII dead. We assembled as a group as the colors were presented and a wreath laid. The honor of laying a wreath was given to Mary Mohr, our only female Army veteran. A group picture was taken and many Asiatic and other tourists also photographed us.
While I was looking at the Field of Stars a little 10-year-old boy came up to me and said he wanted to have the honor of shaking the hand of a WWII veteran, another touching moment that will be a lifetime memory. I wish I had done that when I was a little boy, seeing Civil War veterans on Memorial Day.
Everyone was then taking pictures as we strolled around past the Atlantic Pavilion to the Lincoln Memorial.
Most had their picture taken in front of their home state’s inscription. An inscription in the wall written by President Harry Truman says, “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude, America will never forget their sacrifices.”
We then continued our tour, visiting the Vietnam and Korean monuments. We all had friends or children in these two wars, and we were happy that they had monuments to their service.
We visited the memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt, which was very impressive. Lee Wreyford and I had our picture taken by the statue of President Roosevelt. The bus then drove by the WWI memorial on the way to Arlington National Cemetery. There we witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The precision marching of the military guards was something to behold. Wreaths were laid at the tomb, “Taps” was played and the guard changed. This is a must see if you visit Washington.
We then visited the Iwo Jima Memorial and drove by the Air Force Memorial. It has been nicknamed the Upside Down Bar Stool Memorial” because that is what it looks like. The bus then drove past the rebuilt section of the Pentagon on the way to Reagan airport. Washington is a beautiful city and we got to see one beautiful cherry tree in blossom. A storm had blown blossoms off trees along the Potomac river.
We had dinner at the airport and we were scheduled to depart for home at 6:40 p.m. and arrive at 9:05 p.m. American Airlines had a computer problem so we did not get back to DFW until about 11:30 p.m. We were a tired-but-happy bunch of old veterans.
I want to say that my sponsor met all my needs and helped make my trip exceptional. She was a cheerful and friendly person and I was blessed to have her. I’m sure they were all very good. They were all doing a work of love and doing it very well, indeed. We veterans were a group of old men, 88 to 93 years old; some walked, some staggered, some were in wheel chairs and some had trouble getting on and off the bus. The guardians were always there to help and give words of encouragement. We loved them.
I want to congratulate Sandy Linde-Ellis and all her helpers for organizing this Honor Flight so well. Everything went off as scheduled no matter that it involved a group of very old men. Sandy, you are an expert planner, may God bless you and your aids for your excellent work for WWII veterans.
Honor Flight is made possible by donations from businesses and readers like you who want to honor veterans. If you would like to aid Sandy in her work in honoring veterans, consider making a donation to Honor Flight, P.O. Box 24191, Fort Worth, TX 76124. Veterans who take the Honor Flight in the future might not know who you are but they will thank you in their hearts for providing them with this wonderful occasion.
Citizens, never give up your American liberties! God bless America.
William J. Kelly is a Weatherford resident and regular contributor to Viewpoints.