It wasn’t a ticker tape parade through the streets of New York but the energy in the cramped gates of Reagan National Airport rivaled even the wildest of parades. I heard the clapping and the band and saw the red, white and blue before I even made it through security, immediately assuming it was a returning active duty unit. I soon realized these soldiers weren’t the young strapping ACU clad men and women that I was expecting. They arrived in wheelchairs, with walkers and some pulled oxygen tanks behind them. They wore tissue paper poppies on their shirts and faded hats perched high on their foreheads. Some looked bewildered at all the fanfare, most humbly smiled and a few openly wept.
These men had braved the trenches, survived the shores of Normandy and rained fire down on German warplanes. They risked their lives on land, sea and in the air and lived to tell about it. Over sixty years later, they face a new enemy: age. Statistics show that around 1,000 WWII veterans die every day.
The Honor Flight Network has, in a sense, begun a race against time to honor this generation of veterans by providing all expenses paid trips to Washington, DC. to visit the WWII memorial. Donations are solicited via Honor Flight’s website, commercial flights are chartered and veterans who can’t afford the trip on their own are flown into the city for a day that is all about them. They are assisted during the flight and city tour by “guardians” (volunteers) and greeted at the airports by a band and “ground crew” of volunteers waving flags and clapping. The mood is infectious and, as I saw at Reagan, the general public is eager to join in the festivities.
It was moving, to say the least, watching such a rare display of patriotism, respect and awe. Complete strangers heading to their gates stopped to hug the veterans, another woman put her bags down to tie the shoe of a former pilot who couldn’t accomplish the task on his own without great difficulty. A WWII widow shook the hand of every one of the service members and thanked them over and over again. Tears were flowing freely. Many of these men won’t live more than a few weeks or months after their trip but Honor Flight has made it possible for them to fulfill a final wish. The Honor Flight Network relies entirely on Donations to make these trips possible—please visit their website today, read the story of how they got started and do your part to honor our WWII veterans.