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The Flight of Honor

Many of us love old World War II movies that always have a happy ending.

Recently, my dad experienced a World War II journey with just such an ending. When our government was recently “shut down,” they tried to include the World War II Memorial where for the past few years, our aged veterans have visited as part of The Honor Flight. Of all the national parks and monuments that were closed, no one dared deny our veterans of World War II access to the Memorial dedicated to them.

My 90-year-old World War II Navy pilot dad recently celebrated with 25 other such veterans on one such Honor Flights to our nation’s capital.

With my brother as his escort, my dad and his veteran colleagues boarded the plane from our hometown of St. Louis and the celebration began! Taking extra time for many wheelchairs and walkers, they were applauded and recognized at every stop. They landed in  Baltimore where they were greeted by a military honor guard and then escorted to  buses waiting to transport them to Washington DC. Fire trucks lining both sides of the runway formed a welcoming arch of water, with military of all branches and ranks  saluting them upon arrival. Once there, the teary-eyed veterans, most of them in their 90’s, spent the day visiting monuments on the National Mall, and openly weeping at the World War II Monument. Amidst well-deserved cheers and applause all along the route, their day culminated at the Arlington Cemetery at sunset. Before their return flight, they had a traditional “Mail Call,”  where thousands of letters from family and friends had been secretly gathered over the past month. Reading these on the way home, the veterans wept and  reminisced.

Back home at the airport, families and friends, decked in red, white and blue had formed an entrance line for their soon arrival.

With the Marine Band playing, uniformed military from all the branches awaiting with plaques, and children waving posters, we all proudly awaited our heroes’ return. My mom who had been a “war bride” of 1945, remembered another similar return celebration almost 70 years before.

Entering the terminal where  thousands of us had gathered, they couldn’t believe that the music and applause was for them! The most repeated phrase  was, “I don’t deserve  all of this!” But as we all well-know, they certainly do. As we had  gotten to know many of the other  awaiting families,  so did the veterans. Dad returned with stories  of his fellow veterans –  stories  that many  had not told  in fifty years,  if ever.

Dedicated  folks all over America are hosting these Honor Flights regularly. If you know a World War II veteran make sure they are connected to a sponsor in your area. It is indeed an experience of a lifetime , a celebration and recognition that many of them unfortunately never received.

As a retired teacher, I was grateful that some of my former  students had lovingly taken time to share the airport celebration with us; many had sent letters and cards.  On the back of the T-shirts they gave the veterans it read, “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English thank a veteran.” On the family T-shirts is a quote by Will Rogers,”Not all of us get to be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and applaud as they pass by.” Indeed, we do.

Read more posts by Debra Peppers, Ph.D., here. Dr. Peppers blogs for JenningsWire.