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Sat, Aug. 17

Honor Flight was humbling experience for local vet

I grew up in a Chicago suburb during the 1930s and my dad, who was a veteran of World War I and our family, regularly attended parades on Memorial Day, honoring veterans. Often a member of the Grand Army of the Republic would be the honored guest, riding in an open car with the mayor and other dignitaries. Most of these old Civil War soldiers were in their 90’s and looked ancient to a 10-year old kid.

Recently, I was honored in a similar fashion. I was treated to an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Yavapai Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R). This Honor Flight transported 23 Arizona veterans of World War II to Washington, D.C. to view the World War II Memorial as well as other memorials and points of interest to us former servicemen and women. Each veteran was accompanied by a guardian, who paid his own way. The guardian’s job was to stay close to the 90-plus-year-old veteran partner to make sure he didn’t fall or get lost. Also in the group were other volunteers; several coordinators and leaders, and two medical personnel, all of whom paid for the trip themselves.

Our group gathered at 6 a.m. near Gate 4 of Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor, Phoenix on Tuesday, March 27 where we were outfitted with bright yellow T-shirts and a large name tag. This was done with the help of ‘ground crew’ volunteers who greeted and assisted us and served us breakfast. Our group was announced over the public address system, and strangers shook our hands, and took lots of pictures. There was much clapping and waving of small flags as we walked to our departure gate, boarding a Southwest Airlines flight to Washington with a plane change in St. Louis. Again, in St. Louis, and later when we landed in Baltimore, our group was announced over the P. A. system and we were greeted with handshakes, flag-waving and picture taking. There were volunteer ground crews in each airport to assist us. It was a humbling experience.

On Wednesday, we boarded a bus at the Baltimore Hilton where we were quartered, and had a private tour of the National Archives. We visited the WII memorial, the FDR memorial, Vietnam, Lincoln, Korean memorials, Iwo Jima Marine memorial, changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Air Force memorial before eating supper at Fort Myer, where the guards for the Unknown Soldier are billeted. Our bus driver was excellent and informative—everything was well organized; box lunches appeared on schedule, bottles of water handed out and we were admonished to ‘drink lots of water’. We were even reminded to take our morning pills before departing from the hotel that morning!

Thursday morning before our return, we were taken by our bus to Fort McHenry, nearby, were we saw early American flags and toured the fort that withstood the bombardment by the English fleet during the war of 1812. This was the scene when Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner,” which became our national anthem. Another box lunch was served as we waited to board our flight back to Phoenix, where we were again greeted by the ground crew volunteers and volunteers in uniform.

This spring trip was reported in the Daily Courier on April 2. Seven ROTC cadets from Embry-Riddle University accompanied the group, acting as guardians and generally helping with the dozen wheelchairs and walkers used by the veterans. These students were about the same age as we veterans were when we served. We were reminded of our youthful exuberance as we watched them helping with the loading and unloading of the wheelchairs and walkers from the bus—there were nine loadings/unloadings the day we toured the memorials and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a long but inspiring day!

I thank our leaders, David Frazier and Rob and Nicole Krug and all the other volunteers who contributed to this smooth-running trip, and especially I thank the Yavapai Chapter of D.A.R. for sponsoring this event. It was an experience I shall never forget!

R.J. Reek-Navy rate ETM 2/c

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