One of my relatives who is a WWII Veteran recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C. where he visited the World War II Memorial and other war memorials with a group of other veterans. His trip was founded by the Honor Flight Network, which is sending veterans on these trips, at no charge, as a way of honoring them and their sacrifices for our country.
Before I tell you about Harry's experience, here's some brief background on the Honor Flight Network. Honor Flight is a non-profit organization created solely to fly veterans to Washington D.C. to visit their memorials. Honor Flight first flew in May 2005 from Springfield, Ohio and took twelve WWII veterans to Washington D.C. The program has since expanded to additional states and flights are scheduled regularly. The veterans fly for free but are accompanied by guardians who pay their own airfare. Because we are losing WW II veterans at the rate of 1200 per day, top priority is given to the senior veterans from WW II and those who are terminally ill. Subsequent to WW II Veterans, any open slots are then filled by Korean and then Vietnam veterans. More information about the program, links to local chapters,Â and applications for both veterans and guardians can be found on the Honor Flight Network website.
Harry is 84 years old and served in the Navy during WW II. On the day of his flight he was up at 2:45 a.m. and at the meeting place on the west side of Ann Arbor by 4 a.m. They were issued their tickets and boarding passes and then loaded on buses and transported to Detroit Metropolitan Airport where they went through security and were issued t-shirts with the Honor Flight logo. At the airport they determined who would need a wheelchair and Harry was assigned to one, along with his own personal guardian to push it. Upon their arrival in Baltimore, they were wheeled off the plane and greeted by passengers who were arriving or departing on other flights in the airport who formed a double line for the veterans to walk through. Harry said the line was about a hundred and fifty feet long and the passengers cheered and clapped for the veterans. Harry said that the veterans were so overwhelmed by that greeting that there wasn't a dry eye to be found.
At the airport they were loaded onto buses and went to visit the monuments. The first stop was the WW II Monument and the veterans were given about an hour and a half to wander about and through the monument. Harry told me that a lot of strangers came up, thanked them for their service, shook their hands, and asked to have pictures taken with them. He said it was both embarrassing and humbling at the same time. They were also introduced to Senator Dole at the WW II Monument before being taken back to the bus area where they were fed boxed lunches. After lunch they went to the Korean Conflict Memorial, and the Viet Nam Veteran Wall Memorial and the Mount Sirabachi Flag Raising Memorial (Iwo Jima). On the way back to the Baltimore airport they stopped and ate some dinner. When they arrived at the airport they learned that their return flight was delayed. It turned into a three hour delay, so they didn't arrive back in Detroit until after midnight. They then were bused back to where their cars were waiting.
Harry finally arrived back at home at 1:15 a.m., almost 24 hours since he had left. He was very tired, but happy and content. He said he was treated like royalty the entire time and the guardians and other volunteers were assisting them to the point that it was almost embarrassing. He said there were fifty veterans on his flight and fifty-five guardians to assist them, so I'm sure they all got a lot of well-deserved personal attention. His advice to any veterans who take one of these flights is to take at least three handkerchiefs, because you'll need them.