During a trip to Washington, D.C., last month, I had an opportunity to visit the Vietnam Memorial and the National World War II Memorial. It’s always an honor to spend time at these memorials, erected on behalf of the men and women who fought for their country, many of them never to return home.
The visit to the WWII memorial, which honors the 16 million who served in the U.S. armed forces, including the more than 400,000 who died, turned out to be serendipitous. It was a Saturday morning and several motor coaches were arriving with special guests: WWII veterans from Florida making an Honor Flight visit to their memorial, which opened in 2004.
Tourists like me were excited to see these men step off the buses, many smiling, as strangers spontaneously honored them with cheers and applause. In their wrinkled, aging faces, I saw the images of two other WWII veterans who have passed: my own father, a Marine who served in the South Pacific, and my father-in-law, an Army Air Corps navigator who flew in 35 missions in Europe.
With a wave to the men and a lump in my throat, I gave thanks for the special experience of seeing these veterans receive the recognition they deserved. I even took a few photos of the event. (See above photo .)
The Honor Flight movement, which flew its first mission in 2005, has given communities an opportunity to send veterans, free of charge, to the nation’s capital to visit the WWII Memorial. More than 100,000 WWII veterans have made an Honor Flight, according to HonorFlight.org.
Today, most WWII veterans are in their 90s and members of the so-called Greatest Generation are near the end of life. The U.S. Veterans Administration estimates that 855,000 WWII veterans are still alive, but 492 veterans die each day. The Honor Flight Network, an umbrella organization representing all U.S. Honor Flight groups, would like all of the surviving WWII vets to visit their memorial. In Wisconsin, five Honor Flight groups, including Old Glory Honor Flight based in Appleton, is making this dream come true.
The dream doesn’t end with WWII vets. Those who fought in the Korean War and the Vietnam War (especially those with a terminal illness) are beginning to make the journey to Washington, D.C., to visit those memorials.
As we honor our veterans this week, take time to consider making a donation to Old Glory Honor Flight, PO Box 482, Menasha, WI, 54952; or donating needed items such as gift cards and office supplies. Find out more by calling (888) 6-FLY-VET.