Honor Flight: A Tribute to Our Veterans - PART II

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Our first stop was the WWII memorial; a very impressive place. Unfortunately the weather was rainy, windy and cold. But that didn't stop us. Donning rain apparel and with umbrellas in hand, we forged ahead to see the memorial. It is a true tribute to these brave, selfless people and worth seeing in person. 

Next, cold and wet, we headed for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. That place is huge.  One of the space shuttles was suspended from the ceiling!  There were military planes of all kinds, motors and space capsules from the early days of space exploration. I enjoyed watching the reaction of the veterans as they looked at some of the symbols of their experiences from so many years ago. 

I wondered what was going through their minds.

Arlington National Cemetery elicits many emotions. We watched the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with silent reverence. After the ceremony the veterans lined up on the steps for a group picture. 

We saw the Washington, Iwo Jima and Air Force Memorials. The latter is on a hill that overlooks Arlington National Cemetery to one side and on the other, a clear view of the side of the Pentagon that was damaged by the attack of September 11, 2001. 

There is a subtle difference from the old roofing and brickwork to the new. It made me sad. The solemnity of it was visible on the faces of the vets.

We made our way back to the airport for our return home. 

While at the airport there were many instances of passers-by who went out of their way to shake the vets' hands. I was amazed. So was dad. I don't think he ever expected that so many people would make such an effort to acknowledge them like that. 

One example that I found to be especially poignant was when my dad stopped at a kiosk to purchase some cookies. A young woman standing next in line to make a purchase asked the clerk to add dad's cookies to her purchase. He turned in surprise. With a smile he said thank you, but that wasn't necessary. She extended her hand to shake his, "Please allow me the honor" and "Thank you for your service."

There was a surprise waiting for our vets on the return home; a "mail call." Mail from home was so important for the troops so far away; no Skype or Twitter back then! The guardians arranged to have friends and family send letters to the vets thanking them for their service. One by one, their names were announced along with a brief biography of where they served, as each pouch was passed down the length of the plane to the veteran. 

I looked around at the faces of the men sitting nearby, as they opened and read the letters. There were bursts of laughter, sighs and a few sniffles. I was teary. I watched as my father opened letter after letter in disbelief. He turned to me and said, "How did they know I was taking this trip?" I had to laugh. He had 22 letters to read. He especially loved the pictures drawn by several of his great grandchildren. I know he was deeply touched.

At the airport in Springfield, we were greeted with a bagpipe escort and representatives of the various branches of the military standing at attention, saluting as we walked by. There were hundreds of people separated by an open aisle down the middle of the airport terminal; just enough room for us to make our way to the other end. They were holding banners, balloons, clapping, cheering, and shaking hands with hearty "Thank you for your service and welcome home" greetings. It was unbelievable. 

Veterans and guardians alike were moved to tears by the unexpectedly large number of people...and it was 10:30 on a Tuesday night! 

My sister Linda was there to greet dad. She had come to Springfield from Baraboo, Wisconsin just for this occasion. My father was stunned by all of it.

I am so glad I was able to share this extra special day with my father. He IS a hero in so many ways. Thank you for your service to your country dad. Thank you for taking such good care of our family. 

Thank you to the Honor Flight Organization as they continue their amazing mission.

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