In the company of heroes
He and Grandma and the entire “Greatest Generation” are the “men and women, America’s citizen heroes and heroines, who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America. This generation was united not only by a common purpose, but also by common values–duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country, and, above all, responsibility for oneself.” (Brokaw)
I’ve been fortunate enough to have them in my life as examples and role-models. Grandma passed away a few years ago, and Grandpa and I have had numerous opportunities since then to talk and reminisce about both their life together and his time in the Army Air Corps and (later) the US Air Force. One of the things I really wanted to be able to do was to take him to Washington, D.C. and show him the WWII Memorial there.
There is a nation-wide organization called “Honor Flight” that provides an amazing free service to these Veterans. From their website:
Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation—and as a culturally diverse, free society. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day. Our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out.
Grandpa and I were selected to go on an Honor Flight Austin event on September 6-7, 2013, where 34 WWII Veterans from the Austin area were taken to Washington D.C. to see the WWII Memorial and others. This was an amazing two days, listening to their stories, seeing their reactions, and just being in the company of these heroes.
HFA has a great overview video about their organization, and I can’t promote them enough. They were tremendously prepared, efficient, friendly, and gave us truly the time of our lives.
When we returned, I wrote the following to some selected family (at least to those who have supported Grandpa) and friends (some of whom have never met him, but recognized his contributions and those of his generation to our world’s freedom today):
These past two days have been *EXHAUSTING* but I would not have traded them for anything in the world. We left for the airport in Austin at 0900 Friday and returned to a wonderful reception at 2000 Saturday evening!
When we left, there was an honor guard and bagpipe/drum procession leading the 34 Veterans (being pushed in wheelchairs by the Guardians for ease of travel) down the central concourse of the Austin airport. The reception from fellow travellers was *really* heartwarming.
Hopefully you can see this video from outside Facebook – it’s a video from a hand-held phone, but is pretty awesome.
We had another great welcome in Washington DC, with people clapping and cheering, shaking hands, and the Vets eating up all the attention! 🙂
We went straight to the hotel and had a wonderful dinner/ceremony – there were a lot of great stories told by the Vets.
Saturday was an *early* start, as we went to Arlington National Cemetery and saw the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Four of our group had been pre-selected to lay a wreath of respect at the Tomb. It was very moving and there were more than a few Vets with tears in their eyes.
After that, it was time for the main event – off to the WWII Memorial!
There were four other Honor Flight groups from around the country there that day, and a HUGE crowd of supporters were there to welcome each busload, cheering, clapping, waving flags, and thanking these heroes for their service.
The Memorial itself was bigger than most of the Vets thought, and far more beautiful. There were some really special moments and some great photos. Grandpa really loved seeing this up close. He said it really meant something special for him to be there.
We then toured the Vietnam Wall, the Korean War Memorial (which a majority of these guys had served in as well), the Iwo Jima Memorial, and the Air Force Memorial (which my Grandfather was really happy to see, too, since he served in the USAF). After a quick bus loop around DC to get close to the Capitol/White House, it was back to the airport (another rousing reception!) and home.
Another *HUGE* reception back home in Austin (mostly families of the returning Vets) and an exhausted return home.
I don’t know about Grandpa, but I don’t plan on doing much today. 🙂
I’m absolutely wiped out, but I would do it again in a heartbeat, as he had the best time.
All of the pictures from these two days are in our on-line photo album: Honor Flight Austin (6-7 Sept 2013)
“We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”
― Will Rogers