All Saturday we had spent in the hot sun cleaning out our overflowing garage. Sunburned and exhausted, we set out to grab a quick bite to eat and then head to the airport to see “some veterans returning from visiting the WW2 Memorial.”
I had discovered homecoming planned at the airport through a google search and honestly figured it would be 3-5 vets getting off the plane and just a few flag-wavers cheering at the gate.
I had no idea.
“Honor Flight” is an organization that seeks to get WW2 vets and other terminally ill veterans to their respective memorials in Washington DC. I had stumbled upon the event while planning for our Memorial Day weekend, which, as many of you know, like any patriotic holiday, is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT in this family. I was in for a life changing moment.
We arrived at the airport after a quick stop at the dollar store to buy balloons and banners. As we headed into the terminal, a security guard said, “Second floor and to the left.” I figured he was just happy somebody was coming. We stepped of the elevator, and there were HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE.
Biker gangs, ROTC kids, veterans from Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan…police officers, families, retirees, even the boy scouts! We took our place in line and waited an hour for the plane to land and the veterans to disembark.
The entire time we tried to keep wee ones occupied and balloons attached to their hands…which I thought was a good idea so I could easily keep track of them. Instead it wound up being a constant entanglement and strangulation hazard. How many ways can little boys try and injure themselves and everyone else within 25 feet? Apparently the end to their creativity in that department knows no bounds.
But in the meantime, I was blessed to get to speak with a retired army mechanic. He was responsible for saving 18 lives the very first day of Operation Desert Storm when his helicopter went down. Through tears he showed me the crash photos and it wasn’t long before I embraced him and gave him the most heartfelt thanks I possibly could. 18 lives. That was the sum total of everyone I had with me that night. What a blessing.
But it was just beginning.
Soon we heard the bagpipes and the drums at the end of the terminal. The veterans were coming! Escorted by the Fire Department in full dress uniform, first came the widows carrying flags and a volunteer carrying a photo of their dearly departed husbands.
Then there were the men, mostly in wheelchairs now, accompanied by volunteers and family members. Wearing their hats, their medals, carrying flags and with smiles and tears that made us all weep for gratitude. It wasn’t long before Courson was crying and asking me if he could hug the men.
And then every boy, as well as Soji and Cricks had to hug each veteran. The procession got slower as it came by our family, but the smiles were so big and the people around us swelled with joy.
One veteran turned, looked straight into Courson’s eyes and said, “One day, you’re gonna be the one we honor.” Prophetic for a little boy who wears nothing but camo and sleeps with his toy soldiers. His favorite book? “Old Blood and Guts”—a biography on Patton.
Another looked at Shep and said, “You’ll make a fine soldier, boy!”
In all, 93 veterans passed before us. Crying, smiling, exhausted…and surrounded by hundreds of thankful Americans who
simply wanted to express gratitude.
I encourage you to visit the Honor Flight’s website that is most local to you. A simple google search will bring you to their site where you can plan to attend the next homecoming rally at an airport near you. You can donate money, since veterans fly free. You can volunteer to be a guardian and escort a veteran to the memorial. Or you can volunteer to be part of the ground crew that organizes events or staffs the homecomings.
Or you can just show up and be grateful.
And it was life-changing.