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?