There were no moments of this Honor Flight from Northern Colorado that weren’t meaningful. None of it came off as scripted, although it was completely planned, down to the most minute detail. These men, and two women, were cared for, and looked after, every second. Volunteers, called guardians, were assigned to them, to take care of every need, from medical awareness, to ensuring they were given plenty of water for drinking, food for sustenance, and a listening ear.
Saturday evening was the banquet for these warriors of World War 11 and Korea. Tables were set beautifully, and we gathered to share a meal, and connect with one another. Handsome Husband and I sat at a table with my dad and seven other vets. They all had to be tired, and jet-lagged, but the energy in the room was palpable, and every so often, I would look around and ponder at the stories each must be exchanging with the other. I can only imagine how their heads were whirling with all that had already happened that day.
We hadn’t been seated long when we heard the sharp commands of the Honor Guard at the door, and everyone stood as they trooped down the middle, bearing the colors-Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force~All stood at attention, as the National Anthem was played. It was quite a sight to see, men who had, so long ago, saluted sharply, fingers across uniform covers. I pictured them as they had been, young men in the prime of their lives, with a war in front of them. Here they stood now, decades later, having survived so much, their patriotism and their pride shining through each of them so strongly.
I glanced over at my dad and Handsome Husband, and, in that moment, I realized that even though Handsome wasn’t an official member of the Honor Flight, that this weekend was for him as well. He served honorably for many years, first in the Army, and then in the Air Force, and was involved in much that he has never spoken about (oh, jeez, another dangling participle!) I watched him interact with the others, and knew that him being here was a good thing, and my heart just overflowed with love for him, and love for my dad, that they were able to share this together. The chaplain stood to speak after the Anthem, and briefly told us of his own dad, who was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, and two years in a prison camp in Manchuria, and was his inspiration. He choked up as he spoke, and so did I. The guest speaker gave a moving speech about service-to one another, to country. It set the mood in every way. My dad served honorably for many years, but has never allowed that he “went anywhere” with his career, when measured against his West Point classmates who attained high rank. I’ve always thought otherwise. Dad fought in a war, he spent time away from his large family, going where he was ordered. It can’t have been easy, any of it, and my heart filled continually throughout the evening as I studied him unobtrusively. At one point he put the question to his table mates: “Are you embarrassed when people approach you to shake your hand and say thank you?” There was a general consensus of “yes” though our new friend Delmar said “Yeah, I am, but I’m also thinking to myself “Its about damn time”. I liked that, because I agreed with him. Which led me to, once again, push my comfort level. Taking a breath, I stood, with water glass in hand, and announced to these grizzled old men that I wanted to make a toast and I asked them to raise their glasses with me. What did I even say? Words to the effect that they had all been examples to those in my generation, they did what was asked of them, came home after and built their lives, but made a difference, and I wanted to say thank you, and to welcome them home. The smiles on their faces told me that I’d been on mark, and I was glad I’d done what I did.
Oh, that evening! Voices all around me, stories being told, experiences of war, and homecoming, being shared. These men who were young during “their” wars, now sitting hunched over the tables, some sitting in wheelchairs, some with canes hung over the backs of their chairs. In times past, they had marched off to war, willingly and unwillingly. They’d done what they had to do, and now, well, this was their night. And I was reveling in being a part of it!