I am honored to have my stepfather Ed Murphy writing for me today to discuss his experience on his Honor Flight. Semper Fi! (I'm pretty sure I can say that even if I'm not a Marine).
My Honor Flight was on June 18, 2013. Groups sponsoring flights “transport veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices.” This was the 22nd flight sponsored by the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight group, based in Springfield, IL. The only expense vets have is to get to the Springfield airport and home again. There is no charge for the chartered flight itself, meals, etc. World War II era vets have first priority followed by Korean War era vets, then Vietnam era vets, and so on. Younger vets have a high priority if they have terminal conditions that allow them to fly.
I think I am fairly typical of WWII and Korean era vets in terms of attitude towards military service and a shared understanding that not all service includes the actual combat we all trained for. I was alive during WWII but too young to know about the war itself although I remember things that took place then such as starting school. What I remember about the war (and the Depression before it) came from family stories told after the war. I learned that you should serve your country and help your neighbor. I chose the Marine Corps for military service. After my honorable discharge, I served with volunteer organizations, usually on the Board of Directors, to help my neighbors.
The Honor Flight experience is a lot of things, all of them good. It is solemn. It is funny. It is well planned and well executed. It is spontaneous. It is inspiring to us and an inspiration to those we met. It is humbling. It fills us with pride. It honors the past and gives hope for the future. It is a group endeavor, yet deeply personal. It shines a light on the old vets that reflects upon the young in our families and in society.
We gathered at the Springfield airport before 5:00AM. “We” were 89 honored vets, about 20 from WWII and the rest from the Korean War era. Volunteers checked us in, making sure we had identifying hats and tee shirts--blue for WWII and gold for Korea. Each volunteer thanked each vet for his service. The TSA security screeners thanked us. Special volunteers called Guardians had already been assigned and accompanied us on the trip--at their own expense. I shared a Guardian with another vet from Peoria. Vets with mobility and/or medical problems were one-on-one with a single Guardian.
As we deplaned in DC, we were met with applause. We heard “Thank you for your service” and we heard it all day long. As I was walking to board our buses, I passed a Navy Captain heading to a departure gate. She looked me in the eye as she thanked me for my service. So I thanked her for her service. Made sense to me. Our nation’s freedoms were won and then protected by those serving before me, serving with me, and serving (or will be serving) after me.
We were assigned to one of three buses, named--what else?--red, white, and blue. Each bus carried vets and their Guardians, plus a Guardian who is a nurse.
Our first stop was the WWII Memorial. We vets posed for a group picture and then held a memorial service. We submitted in advance names of vets we knew who had died either in service or afterward. I submitted the names of four of my uncles and my wife’s step dad, all of whom survived their service but are no longer alive. A Guardian read all the names--lots of names--and then we had a moment of silence.
I had prepared separate sheets of paper with each name I submitted and where they had served. I had pictures taken of me holding those sheets at the column with the appropriate state name in the background, Illinois for the step dad and Nebraska for the uncles. As I was starting to pose at the Nebraska column, a group of about 20 older high school girls thanked me for my service and asked what I was doing. I explained what the sheets meant and that my uncles and I were all born in Nebraska. Then, as I posed, about 20 girls took pictures of me and my Guardian/photographer.
The second stop included the Korean, Vietnam, and Lincoln Memorials. Then we had lunch as we traveled to the Air and Space Museum’s huge annex near Dulles Airport. There we were met by members of the museum’s curator staff who thanked us for our service and then took us in groups of six to ten to tour the exhibits. Emphasis was on WWII and Korean era aircraft, both our own and the enemies‘.
Next were stops at the Iwo Jima and then the Air Force monuments. In one respect, it would be difficult to find two monuments more unlike each other. The one a huge bronze statue depicting the iconic photo of the Marines raising the flag during the battle for Iwo Jima. The other is three curved, tapered columns reaching over 200 feet into the sky. For all of the physical differences in the monuments, they both speak dramatically to the entire history of both services. And there is an interesting link between these services. The Marines captured Iwo Jima to give the Army Air Corps (which became the Air Force in 1947) an airfield both for fighters escorting bombers attacking the Japanese mainland and as an emergency landing site for damaged bombers.
Our last stop was Arlington Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. This was our turn to say “Thank you for your service.”
Back in Springfield, bagpipers led us past over 300 people lining the hall on both sides to celebrate our return. To my surprise, the crowd included my wife and my brother and his wife. It was a long and satisfying day which I shall not soon forget.
Lance Corporal Edward J. Murphy
United States Marine Corps