It’s 0600 hours in Fayetteville, Georgia and I’m up with troops preparing for a very special mission. I start making rounds, talking to many of the nearly 80 World War II Veterans about to take a trip of a lifetime.
They are heading to Washington DC to see the memorial built in their honor. For many of these veterans, it will be the first time they’ve ever seen it. The trip was provided by Honor Flight…an organization with one mission: to honor veterans for their sacrifice by sending them to their memorial in Washington DC for free!
As I speak to the vets, their excitement is easy to see. Many tell me this was a trip they never thought they’d be able to make. They are happy to talk about their appreciation towards Honor Flight, but when it comes to the war… most don’t tell me much.
Soon, we loaded the buses and headed towards the airport with an escort by local law enforcement and patriot guard riders. On the plane, some veterans start opening up to me and photojournalist Rich Brooks. But still, the war stories were few and far between.
Two hour later we arrived in Washington, DC and the sight brought tears to my eyes. A heroes welcome in the terminal. A brass band played old war tunes. A massive crowd waved flags, cheered and thanked each and every veteran for their service as they stepped off the plane. Watching their expressions, their reaction to this was truly one of the best things I’ve experienced. I stood at the end of the reception line. So many stopped and told me this was more elaborate then the reception they received when they returned home from war and one of the first times they’ve ever been thanked for their service.
At their memorial, even more thanks. Most gasped to see how big it was. They slowly made their way down into the memorial. Facing the reflection pool and Lincoln memorial is a wall of stars. Each represents 100 service members who lost their life in WWII. There are 4,000 stars on that wall! I felt a tap on my arm and saw one of the veterans standing beside me. He told me about his experience storming the beaches of the Pacific, the men they lost and how lucky he was to be witnessing this moment when so many of his comrades didn't make it. He told me that was the first time he’d ever told anyone his story.
It was amazing! The same veterans who didn’t want to speak about the war just hours before were now willingly sharing their stories. Luckily, Rich was around to record a lot of it on tape! The stories were unbelievable. Stories of the D-Day invasion, pilots being shot down by enemy fire and chilling tales from inside POW camps. I felt so privileged to be there at that moment.
From the memorial we took a quick trip to Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
By the time we got back to Atlanta it had been a 20 hour trip! The elderly warriors seem renewed rather than exhausted by their whirlwind trip.
Peharps because this was meant to honor these WWII Veterans who never asked for thanks. They went off to save the world and when they got home, continued on with their lives. They never asked for honors. The real honor, for me, was to spend the day with this great generation of heroes. It is a trip I am grateful to have the opportunity to take and one that I will never forget!
Today, if you see a veteran of any war, take the time to thank them! I can tell you from experience, that small thanks means more to them then you'll ever know!
Click here to read more on this trip.
Or if you want to learn more about Honor Flight and their mission, click here.