COLUMNS

Moved by an Honor Flight

stephanieziebarth

I still get choked up when I think about what I witnessed this weekend.

My niece from Minnesota was arriving at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Saturday morning, so I headed down there for her arrival. Because she is a minor, I had the privilege of meeting her immediately upon her leaving the plane. I made my way to gate 1 of terminal A, and walked into a situation I wasn't expecting.

Almost everyone in the area was standing at attention, facing the same direction. Then the crowd burst into applause. I quickly found a place to stand and tried to figure out what was happening. It didn't take long to see the two rows of navy seamen standing at attention. An Honor Flight was arriving from Nashville, Tennessee. Each veteran was introduced and then proceeded through and was saluted by the seamen. The entire crowd applauded enthusiastically.

The veterans were not being rushed; each received due respect. And each displayed a huge smile and great appreciation on his face.

I immediately teared up. For one, I missed my grandparents. Four of my six grandparents were veterans of World War II (my paternal grandmother was not technically a solider, but was an army instructor). None of them made it to the World War II Memorial.

Second, I noticed that some of the veterans were from the Vietnam War. If you know your history, you'll know that many Vietnam veterans arrived home to revilement. They had just participated in the horrors of war, risking their lives, and returned to disregard and open hostility. Instead of ovations, they received spit in the face. All politics aside, that is no way to treat a human being–especially one who has just offered his life in exchange for yours.

Decades later, these men were finally receiving their overdue respect and honor, and, judging from their faces, it meant a great deal to them.

I leaned over to chat with a blond woman who was clearly with the retinue, but was standing aside at the moment. I asked her what her role was. 'I'm referred to as a guardian,' she said. 'This is something that's kind of a bucket list thing for me. I've wanted to do this for my grandparents for a long time. I'm so excited we can do this. It means so much to us.'

She directed me to https://www.honorflight.org/how-we-honor-our-veterans/, which tells the moving story about how this program was borne. Visit the web site to learn more about the program, especially if there is a veteran in your life you would like to experience the honor of not only arriving in the nation's capital with respect, but who would benefit from the accompanying tour of the monuments.

After all, our veterans deserve to be treated with honor. And, as I experienced personally, we all benefit from the special experience.