I approached the stone structure on a beautiful crisp clear October day. Fallen leaves crushed beneath my feet and the air had exactly the right amount of gentle breeze blended with a cool warmth that defines early fall in Washington, D.C.
Before me stood a stone structure built to memorialize those courageous men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, crawled through the sand at Iowa Jima and drug themselves along the Bataan death march. As I stared at the imposing World War II monument formed into a circle marking the Atlanta and Pacific sides, I pictured those brave Americans that risked everything to keep our country free from Communism. I thought of the father-in-law that I never met and how he must have felt as the Navy Cross was pinned to his chest. I thought of the many times my own dad recalled sitting in his gunnery position of the bull turret bomber and the fear he felt every time his plane landed, because he was locked into a rounded pimple attached to the bottom of the plane.
My daydream was interrupted by the loud sounds of engines and air brakes as five huge buses pulled into the parking lot behind me. As I turned to look, I saw those men. The ones I had just been imagining were departing from their chariots. Here they were! Those Americans that gave it all–the Greatest Generation. I watched as they slowly stepped off the buses blinking their eyes in the bright sunlight as wheelchairs were hurried to their sides. After being secured in their chairs, they were pushed by sons or daughters and many by their own grandkids to the entrance of the great monument.
This was a once in a lifetime moment. And as we all knew, spectators and veterans alike, this would be the only journey they would every make to their monument.
Most of them were wearing matching brightly colored t-shirts emblazoned with their states and with a small logo of the generous businesses that had sponsored their trip. Honor Flight had organized the trips including the flights and bus trips for the veterans. Each wore around his neck a lanyard announcing his branch of military service and each name was typed neatly on a card dangling on their chests. A few of them wore their original uniforms, proud to be soldiers and equally proud to be able to still wear it.
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