Honor Flight

Author’s Photo: Former Honor Flight Participant Wears His Honor Flight Jacket — It Reads: “Every Day Is A Bonus”

Everyone is looking to the left. They’re coming — exiting concourse D into the main lobby of General Mitchell International Airport. They’ve had a long, eventful day — these one-time soldiers, now great-grandfathers, husbands, brothers, grandmothers, sisters, neighbors and friends. Hundreds anticipate their arrival. We want to applaud, hug, kiss, smile, shake hands and say thank you.

The Franklin High School cheerleading squad stands with their black and gold pom-poms at the ready, while the Arrowhead High School band plays On Wisconsin, Louie-Louie, Hey Baby and America the Beautiful. Grandparents, parents and children eat frozen custard cones from the Northpoint treat and burger stand. All bedtime rules have been suspended on this night, while patient onlookers step away from Saturday night routines, waiting for planes to touch down.

On Saturday, October 14, 2017 one hundred and fifty veterans from WWII, Korea and Vietnam made a round trip Honor Flight between Milwaukee and Washington DC. With the assistance of a sponsor, one hundred and forty seven men and three women aged sixty-six to ninety-five were recognized for service to their country.

As I stood near the Starbucks sign — advertising maple pecan lattes, sprinkled with autumn love, I thought about how much the world has changed since the veterans traveled to wars in Europe and Asia — as very young men and women. What did they witness in those places — taking part in conflicts of which they had no role in creating? What has happened in the rest of their lives? How were they able to move on?

I didn’t get any answers on Saturday night, as I did not have courage to ask such questions of people I’d never met. Maybe one day I’ll return, notebook and pencil in hand.

My parents-in-law had a friend who shared in Saturday’s flight. He wore a light blue jacket, signifying his participation in the Vietnam war. Veterans of WWII wore navy, while those from the Korean war were dressed in royal blue.

When my in-laws invited my son to join them on Saturday night, he accepted. They’d been invited to sit with their friend’s family. Each veteran’s family is designated a gathering spot on the floor of General Mitchell’s main lobby space. It seemed each roped off area was filled to capacity, with unfolded lawn chairs holding anticipation.

I was glad my son accepted Grandma’s invitation— feeling it was a good thing for him to do, spending time with his grandparents and having a fourth dimension experience. (Thanks for that term Alex Mathers.)

On Saturday afternoon, I looked at my husband and said, “I haven’t been invited, but I want to go to the Honor Flight reception tonight. Do you want to come? I think anybody can go — we just won’t have a designated area to wait. We’ll have to hang out on the fringes.”

Strangely enough, as we made our way through the crowd, I recognized someone from our hometown. Kishor emigrated to the US from India, married an emigrant from Denmark, raised two beautiful daughters, and started a successful engineering business. On this Saturday night — he came to the airport to honor a neighbor who’d fought in Korea.

We chatted for a couple of minutes while he waited for his daughter and grandchildren to return with a promised frozen custard treat. Chocolate cones in one hand and photos of their neighbor/veteran taped to a stick in the other, all four granddaughters seemed to be enjoying the experience.

A visit to the Honor Flight website offers the story of its conception by Navy veteran Earl Morse. The first flight took place in May 2005, transporting veterans to see the memorials recognizing their efforts — erected in our nation’s capitol. Without the Honor Flight, many veterans would never be able to make the trip. The non-profit organization’s stated mission is: Dedicated to providing veterans with honor and closure. To date, approximately one hundred and sixty thousand men and women have been able to make the journey from Honor Flight hubs located in forty-seven states.

My attention was drawn away from the barista in her green apron, who was sweeping up shards of a shattered tea cup. Cheerleaders shook pom-poms and the band played the Star Spangled Banner while everyday heroes, some walking — many in wheelchairs, entered the airport’s central lobby. I saw a range of emotions on the veteran’s faces. We all react differently to such focused attention. I did feel an overwhelming sensation of gratitude, connection and unification in that moment, and I was pleased that I chose to be a part of the event, if only on the fringe. It was an experience that will forever shape me and how I choose to see the world.

To me, Honor Flights are a recognition of what others have given so that I can live free. I’m also reminded that with freedom comes responsibility — to take care of myself, take care of this place, and to take care of each other — within our borders and beyond.

The evening took on a special meaning for me because I had recently read this story in The Guardian. The story makes my heart hurt, because I see the truth in it. It encouraged me to reach out to the elderly in my life. I felt joy to see so many supporting the Honor Flight participants. Do you have any elderly family or friends you could reach out to today?

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Gail Boenning

Gail Boenning

https://bornfree.substack.com

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