|Vietnam Veterans of America|
RIDE WITH AN HONOR FLIGHT
This June, I had the opportunity to join an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., through the Honor Flight Network. Honor Flight’s simple, heartfelt mission, is — as the organization puts it — to work with volunteers across the country to honor our nation’s veterans with an expense-paid visit to the memorials in Washington, D.C., a trip many veterans might not otherwise ever be able to take.
In June, I joined a group of 33 veterans at Denver International Airport clad in one-of-a-kind, red polo shirts. Most were Vietnam War veterans. A few World War II and Korean War veterans rounded out the group. Twenty aptly named volunteer Guardians in blue polo shirts watched over our every move.
We boarded the plane in Denver amid cheers and steady applause from onlookers. That was unheard of for us old guys, and it was certainly not the kind of attention we received five decades ago.
Our reception on landing at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport was even bigger: an airport firetruck gushed a water salute as we taxied under its stream. That was as humbling as it was unexpected.
As honorees, we were told “not to touch” our luggage until it was time to take our bags to our hotel rooms near the airport. The veterans in wheelchairs, and those unsteady on their feet or simply in need were accompanied by Guardians throughout the whole experience.
We then put in a full day in Washington, D.C., with stops at the World War II Memorial, the United States Navy Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Next went to the Navy Yard to take in the U.S. Navy Museum. At each location, volunteers were well organized, and everything went extremely smoothly.
The next day, we saw the 9:00 a.m. Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery. As Honor Flight participants, we were given a close-in viewing location.
We then visited the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, close to Arlington Cemetery; next we went to the nearby Air Force Memorial across from the Pentagon. After a quick lunch, we took in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington and the nearby Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial.
Returning on the bus to BWI was a quiet, reverent time. There was much to absorb and contemplate. We’d just had the opportunity of a lifetime to see memorials honoring many lives offered in service to a grateful nation.
Upon landing in Denver at 10:30 p.m., the Honor Flight participants were met with a welcoming party of unanticipated size and warmth. There were bagpipers, a Knights of Columbus Honor Guard, dozens of well-wishers, and about 20 young Marines who lined the end of the jetway, rendering the sharpest of salutes.
It was an emotional homecoming that brought many to tears.
Tom Werzyn is a member of South Metro Denver Chapter 1106, and a frequent contributor to our online Books in Review II page.
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