In August, I had the privilege of going on an Honor Flight as a guardian to my boyfriend, one of the participating veterans. The three-day trip to Washington, DC was an overwhelming experience, one that is constantly on my mind as we approach Veterans Day.
Looking back, everything seems larger than life. Certainly the monuments were—the World War II, Korean and Vietnam war memorials; the Naval, Air Force, Marines, and women veterans memorials, and Arlington National Cemetery. Our group was huge too, including more than 100 people, with 46 veterans, their 46 guardians, leaders, support staff, nurses, bus captains, photographers, and other volunteers.
This enormous undertaking was planned, organized, funded, and led by the Veterans Network Committee of Northern Illinois. This dedicated group spends 362 days each year preparing for the three-day trip in August. They are led by Randy Granath, himself a Vietnam veteran.
A few weeks ago, each participant received two CDs holding more than 2,000 pictures taken by the two photographers accompanying us. They capture in loving detail all of the special moments of those three days. It was difficult to select just a few photos to share, but I didn’t think you would want to see all 2,000.
This photo of our entire group was taken at the Air Force Memorial. It shows how many of us there were and, I hope, gives you an idea of the logistics needed to transport, feed, and house us.
Below, some of our World War II veterans and their guardians pose at the World War II memorial.
And here is a group of Korean vets at their memorial.
Here are a number of our Vietnam vets. The man on the left is Randy, the trip director. To the right of him is my vet, Don.
The highlight of our visit to the Iwo Jima memorial came when our Marine veterans serenaded us with a rousing rendition of The Marine Corps Hymn.
At the end of all of our sightseeing, we were asked what had made the biggest impression. The most common answer was the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknowns at Arlington. Here is a shot of that moving ceremony.
Several of my friends who have experienced honor flights told me to be prepared for emotional moments. What I didn’t expect was that the entire three days would be so emotional. Looking back, what I value most is the bonding that occurred—
bonding between the veterans themselves…
… bonding between veterans and their guardians…
… and bonding of current military and members of the public with our vets.
Finally, these men and women were receiving the recognition and thanks that they deserve. Nowhere was this more evident than in the welcome home celebration. A large motorcycle escort led our two buses all the way from the Milwaukee airport to Arlington Heights.
This is what awaited us.
Now, just hours away from Veterans Day 2015, I look back at the pictures and replay the memories. And I realize that going forward, the holiday will always have more meaning for me because of the Honor Flight.
Isn’t this how our veterans deserve to be treated every day?
For more information about the Honor Flight program in northern Illinois, follow this link. If you live elsewhere in the country, use this link for information.
Wonderful tribute article, Caryl! Enjoyed it very much.
Thank you, Jody!
Beautifully written Caryl. Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for writing such a wonderful article about our Honor flight
Thank you, Pattie. I enjoyed writing this, except that I could have said so much more. It was hard leaving things out.
Caryl, I was the Woman Marine on the trip. Your article told the heartfelt feelings of everyone on the voyage we took together. We have made relationships that will last a lifetime. Every American should experience the monuments at least once in their life. Thank you so much for putting our experience into words and pictures, to share with everyone. So fitting to share this on the 240th Marine Corp Birthday, and so close to Veterans Day. Everyday should be Veterans Day, not just once a year.
Thank you so much, Melody! Happy Marine Corps birthday and Veterans Day. Hope to see you at the Christmas party.
Very well said indeed. I too, was fortunate to have made this trip, taking my 90+ year old WWII veteran neighbor. Seeing and participating in the bonds, friendships and pure emotions from these proud veterans left permanent marks in my heart. As you said, it isn’t possible to put what this trip meant into words. We all need to experience this trip ourselves, to truly understand its’ meaning, and importance. There were several vets on our trip, accompanied by their children, who told me this was the first time their Fathers had ever talked about their experiences. Tears and mores tears.
If you are someone out there “thinking” about participating by taking a veteran on this trip, or providing financial support……don’t think any more, just do it. You will be a better person for your commitment. This is an incredibly rare opportunity to do something that impacts so many, in such a positive way. Your heart will thank you.