Honor Flights. Ever heard of them? Its a series of non-profits around the country with the common theme of taking veterans of our wars to visit the memorials in Washington D.C. Currently, they are, of course, focusing on WW2 and Korean War vets because they are elderly and in the twilight of their lives. They come to D.C. and visit their memorials and are pretty much given the “welcome home” they never received when they returned from the war zones. Its all funded by donation, and each Honor Flight group, in varying degrees, has a lifetime experience.
So, this past weekend, my dad, Stuart Miller, US Army Ret. joined an Honor Flight from northern Colorado. There is so very much to write about this experience, and too much to write about in one blog. The overall picture? One hundred and fifty veterans of those two wars, and five from Vietnam who were Purple Heart recipients, joined together in Washington DC, to talk about their fighting years, maybe for the first time, paid honor to their comrades who didn’t come home, had their hands shaken too many times to count, and, hopefully, we nt home with some healing in their hearts. There are really no words that will fully explain the hugeness of a brief 24 hours with my dad and all these other vets. I’ve seen a documentary on the Honor Flights, and I encourage you to do the same. I knew some of what would happen at thestart of their day as they gathered at the hotel in Colorado, and I got chills as I heard of it first hand from my dad and these elderly men. Here it is.
The veterans, from all corners of northern Colorado, were dropped off at the hotel by family members. Inside, a very large buffet breakfast awaited them. Its always good when it starts with food. Each of them were given what I told my dad was a “swag bag”-a poncho for bad weather, a disposable camera, a blue t-shirt , a ball cap that was inscribed with either WW2 ” or “Korean War” veteran. A special Honor Flight pin. Small snacks. A lanyard that had their name on it, a star of whatever color denoting the bus they would ride on for the day. And on the back the name and contact information for their “guardian” (a volunteer who was partnered with 4 veterans for the day). There was nothing left to chance. After breakfast, they headed for their bus, which would take them to Denver Airport, a little more than an hour away. But wait! They didn’t just ride to the airport. Before boarding the buses they were greeted by members of the Patriot motorcycle group, who were going to be their escorts to the airport. And it got better. In front of the one hundred motorcycles were state police cars, lights flashing, and along the roads, as they approached intersections, more would take their place. And then there was more. The crowds turned out along the roads, on the overpasses, waving flags, cheering and applauding, holding signs saying thank you and welcome home. This is what started the day for all these old men who were part of the Greatest Generation and the one after. Wearing sneakers for comfortable walking, supported by walkers and wheelchairs, unsteady on their feet at times, these grizzled men who were ranchers and farmers, business owners, blue collared ordinary men who were only brought together because they donned a uniform and went to war, came together over 50 years later to board a plane to take them to our nation’s capital to be honored and to pay honor to their comrades in arms. These were men who saw sights they never envisioned seeing while “over there”. These were men who stepped off a ship or a plane and into their new post-war lives without being recognized by their nation for the sacrifices endured. All these many years later, this 24 hours was going to change that for them. They boarded this flight, with nurses to look after them should medical emergencies arise, volunteers to oversee their comfort and keep them company, their only responsibility to sit back and enjoy. Everything that could be done for them was being done for them, at no cost to them. All they had to do for the next 24 hours was bask in the knowledge that they had, in their time, given what was asked of them, and it was now their time to be given to. Behind them, as the plane lifted into the air, was Colorado. Ahead of them-Washington DC, and a long overdue welcome home.