by Mary Borowski, business manager
On September 24 I had the honor of accompanying my father, a 91-year-old World War II Navy veteran, to Washington D.C. on the Never Forgotten Honor Flight. I also was privileged to serve as a guardian for a second World War II Veteran.
The mission of the Never Forgotten Honor Flight is to provide a special kind of honor for the sacrifices of America's veterans; our heroes fly to Washington D.C. to visit their memorials. Top priority is given to senior veterans – World War II survivors.The veterans do not pay for this activity – it is absolutely free. Central Wisconsin Never Forgotten Honor Flight is an affiliate of the Honor Flight Network, a group that began operations in 2005. The goal is to raise enough money for four flights a year until all WWII veterans have had the opportunity. Korean War veterans and others will be honored in a similar fashion in the future.
The September flight festivities began Sunday evening with a dinner honoring the veterans. During the social hour, many new friends were made, old stories told, and a renewed sense of patriotism could be felt in the banquet hall. A delicious dinner was enjoyed, heart-warming speeches were made, and entertainment filled the room. With music from the 1940s, toes were tapping to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and vets with their arms around their sweethearts were swaying to Sentimental Journey.
Monday morning came bright and early with roll call at 5:00 a.m. at the Central Wisconsin Airport. The vets marched in with their guardians, excited and eager to begin their journey. We were greeted by a crowd of volunteers, making sure the day started off right with coffee, donuts, fruit, juice, and water. The chatter in the terminal was electrified and many pictures were already being taken to record the day’s events. The vets said “good byes” to their spouses, family members, and friends as we boarded the plane and settled in. The plane made its way to the runway and a ceremonial water salute from two fire trucks. We arrived at Regan International Airport to be greeted by lines of cheering airport patrons.
Our first stop was the World War II memorial, where a group photo was taken. Taps was played to salute our fallen heroes. As I watched our group be photographed, visitors from Holland asked me about the group and why they were visiting. I explained and they asked me to thank our veterans for saving their country. I noticed these travelers stayed to talk with many of the vets; this was just one of the many humbling experiences that defined the day.
|World War II Memorial|
|Korean War Memorial|
The day included visits to the Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Air Force War Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Iwo Jima Memorial. I watched in amazement at each stop as our veterans paid tribute . . . remembering those who went before them and those who are still with us; men and women who bravely fought to keep our country free.
|World War II Memorial|
|Iwo Jima Memorial|
As our day came to a close, with exhausted vets in tow, we boarded the plane for central Wisconsin and a quiet plane ride home. Many vets were sound asleep, and exhausted guardians, too. A few conversed about the day’s events. Another surprise awaited: mail call, just like in the service. To everyone’s amazement, large packages of letters were handed out to each and every vet. Letters sent from loved ones, family, friends, and complete strangers. My dad opened his package and the first letter and said, “I have to wait to look at these tomorrow; I don’t have any tissues.” (Tuesday morning, he read every card, letter, and thank you note.)
The icing on the cake, the final event, was the “Welcome Home” at Central Wisconsin Airport. The vets disembarked to cheers, greetings, hugs, and tears from hundreds of people who created a human corridor from the aircraft gate to the terminal exit. Vets stopped and shook hands with family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers. It was the welcome home many never received sixty or seventy years ago. This certainly resonated with my dad.
|Central Wisconsin Airport|
Because I am a numbers person, I’m closing with these “stats”: the September 24, 2012 flight included thirty-six World War II Veterans, thirty-two Korean War Veterans, twenty-one guardians, three physicians, one journalist, two photographers, six Honor Flight volunteers, two pilots, and three flight attendants all on one very large plane. And, there were countless behind-the-scenes volunteers who make the program run smoothly. I say “thank you” for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I had the honor of sharing with my father.