Over 400 thousand soldiers gave their lives during World War II, paving the way to a better life for millions. It begs the question: How do you honor a generation of men and women that gave so much and asked for so little?
The U.P. Honor Flight, now on it’s fourth mission, helps pay tribute to selfless.
It’s early, dark, and a little chilly. But none of that matters to the hoards of people escorting some of the most honorable men and women the world has ever known. The gratitude is palpable, echoing from the flag-bearing motorcade to the endless thank you’s on the tarmac. And they’re not even on the plane yet.
After a short flight filled with songs and prayer, it was time to deplane. A raucous crowd of well-wishers eagerly waited to reach out and personally thank each veteran for their service.
On this whirlwind day, there was little time to waste. Luckily, the mission had guardians of their own.
“When you can go through all the traffic that we went through. You’d think it was the president coming through. You know?” gushed Donald Johnson of Norway, a Navy veteran.
The first stop was the World War II Memorial, built just nine years ago. At the doorstep, a decorated receiving line gathered for a warm welcome home.
“It’s an honor for me to serve, really, in their footsteps. And to be able to greet them here at their memorial, and to be able to thank them for their service and what they’ve done for our country. I can’t compare this to anything,” remarked Rear Admiral Nora Tyson, a member of the Joint Staff from Memphis.
They were like celebrities: walking through throngs of people, shaking hands, and handing out hugs to people they had never even met…all on the monument dedicated in their honor.
“Oh yes, that was something else. It’s just amazing that people will welcome you like that. You know, complete strangers, and they welcome all the vets,” noted Harold Wagner, a Navy and Coast Guard veteran from Gwinn.
For many of the veterans, this was the first chance to see the sites they helped protect up close, in person. But today they are the main attraction, garnering just as much attention and reverence as the statues lining the National Mall.
While most of the day was a celebration, it was also a time to remember their fallen friends.
“I know a man that’s in here. He’s honored, day and night,” lamented John Duflo Sr., an Air Force veteran from Newberry.
Following a somber salute at Arlington National Cemetery, the Air Force Band livened everyone’s spirit with some award winning music, proving their talents aren’t limited to the sky.
Just like that, their time in D.C. was over. But there were still some excitement yet to come. A mail call, filled with letters from family and friends; notes and pictures that put their sacrifice in perspective.
And if having it writing wasn’t enough, an airport filled with close to 500 screaming fans reiterated their appreciation.