Thanks to Gini Logan of Spring Island for sharing her journal entry on a recent Honor Flight Savannah trip to Washington, D.C.
She says anyone interested in volunteering, donating or taking the trip as a veteran can contact Honor Flight-Savannah, P.O. Box 60176, Savannah, GA 31420; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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By Gini Logan
My Honor Flight veterans were Glen, Stuart and George; my husband, Michael's, charges were Ray, Mel and Bob. In all, we traveled with 32 veterans who ranged in age from 84 to 92. We were guardians, although Glen insisted, when I contacted him, that he didn't need a guardian.
The World War II Memorial Trip was supposed to travel by double-decker luxury bus, but somehow it didn't work out that way. Instead, the group of about 52 (which included guardians, photographers, leaders, two nurses and a doctor) were split into two buses.
The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit group that was created for the purpose of transporting World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to view the National World War II Memorial, which was built and dedicated to honor their sacrifices. The veterans do not have any expenses -- they receive free transportation, meals, snacks and a T-shirt, and any other need for their convenience. The escorts pay their own expenses. Individual escorts are provided for those who need a wheelchair. My veterans were all mobile and, therefore, I was given three very spry veterans to chase after.
We gathered at the Georgia Air National Guard at 7 p.m. Sept. 9 where the guardians arrived wearing their red Honor Flight shirts and the veterans were given T-shirts that read on the front, "Honor Flight, One More Tour With Honor" and on the back, "If you can read this, thank a teacher; if you can read it in English, thank a veteran."
There was music, dancing, authentic World War II uniforms displayed and worn and then, as the veterans filed out of the assembly hall, a National Guard honor guard formed a line so that the veterans walked past all of these current servicemen and women to our buses.
The bus seats were not that comfortable. The seats did not recline much, they were too close together and the aisle was narrow. The men who had to use wheelchairs still had to maneuver the stairs into the bus and, with help, get to their seats. We finally left for D.C. at about 9 p.m. Then, every two hours we had a "comfort stop" where the buses would pull into a rest stop, turn on all the lights to wake us up and we would file out, slowly and groggily, to use the facilities or buy snacks. This occurred at midnight, 2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. But, finally we arrived at Union Station at 7:15 a.m.
The relief bus drivers took over for the day and soon we were off, complete with police escort (three motorcycle cops) to the World War II memorial. When we arrived, the whole group lined up for a photograph with the veterans in wheelchairs in the front. And then the group was greeted by Pentagon brass from all the branches of services. Every one of them -- generals, admirals -- took their time to shake every hand and talk to each veteran.
I was impressed that all of these high-ranking officials seemed to have nothing better to do on a Saturday (the day before the memorial for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the Pentagon) than to visit with three dozen old men. But it was implicitly understood that World War II truly threatened our existence as a free society and these soldiers and sailors were responsible for saving this freedom.
The camaraderie of the veterans between each other and with their guardians was just wonderful -- lots of joking and witticisms and sharp retorts. We were met at the memorial by other people who volunteered to escort us for a few hours, and a group of Delta Gamma sorority girls from a nearby university were there to help. Bob had his arms around two of the girls when Michael asked, "Bob, do you need any help there?" and Bob answered, "No sir, I have it all under control!"
Of course we weren't the only Honor Flight there. I counted about a half dozen other buses and men and women with similar shirts to ours. Some of them came from Ohio and Pennsylvania.
We were there about two hours and then went for a 20-minute tour of the capital area before crossing the bridge to Arlington National Cemetery. In the meantime, we ate a boxed lunch aboard the bus.
At Arlington, we watched the changing of the guard twice at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The ceremony of the change cannot be altered according to tradition, but the participants have added a little twist to the ritual to acknowledge the veterans and to thank them. The lead sergeant adds a little scuffle to his stride that makes a scraping sound. He did this three or four times as he walked past the line of veterans, standing and in wheelchairs. One of the other workers at the tomb stopped Michael and me to ask if we knew about that tribute and I assured him that we did. Also, while there, a woman in the gallery walked over to shake hands with some of our men and tears streamed down my face. She told me that her father had been in the war as well as her brother.
A veteran from another Honor Flight had brought the wartime photo of his late wife in her Women's Army Corps (WAC) uniform. He wanted her there with him in spirit.
After that, we went to the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, U.S. Air Force Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and Korean War Veterans Memorial. At the Vietnam wall, one of our men who had never seen it found his son's name on the wall and made an etching of his name onto a piece of paper with a crayon and had his photo taken at that site. Again, many tears flowed.
We were then transported to a buffet restaurant in Falls Church, Va., where we ate supper, got our original drivers back and loaded up the buses for the long, cramped ride back to Savannah. We arrived before 7 a.m. Sunday morning.
I was totally exhausted and hoarse. My ankles were swollen and legs were cramping. And I'm 14 years younger than those veterans who we traveled with. I cannot imagine how wiped out those men had to have been. And, yet, they thanked us over and over again for planning the trip and escorting them and seeing to their care.
Michael and I don't think we did very much except to share this special opportunity to be with some very special people.
What a privilege it was. Exhilarating, exhausting, emotional, encouraging.
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