Honor Flight 101

Last month, I wrote about inspiration after seeing the Honor Flight documentary. I had never heard of the Honor Flight Network prior to that point, but I immediately knew it was an organization that I would be proud to get involved with. And this past weekend, I escorted my very first group of Honor Flight WWII veterans!

I arrived at DCA on Saturday morning and obtained my Gate Access Pass (permits entry to the gates for personnel not actually travelling). Once at the gate, I met the 4 other local volunteers that would be escorting the Honor Flight for the day. In addition to myself, there were 3 active duty military members and one other military veteran.

As the plane approached the gate, the Washington Airport Authority Fire Department “saluted” the plane with their fire hoses!

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Then, an announcement was made in the terminal about the incoming WWII veterans and asked the surrounding travelers to stand and greet the veterans as they came off the plane. The immediate wave of support was overwhelming! Everyone gathered around the gate and cheered on the veterans as they made their way into the terminal. It was very emotional and I was extremely choked up the whole time. Since I absolutely hate for people to see me cry, it took every shred of energy I had to fight back the tears. What can I say….patriotism makes me sappy. Even this tough girl has an Achilles heel.

We had two busloads of veterans, guardians and other volunteers that were all part of the SW Florida Honor Flight hub. Once we got everyone loaded up, it was time to visit the memorials. Our first stop was the WWII Memorial. The veterans all seemed in awe of how grand and beautiful the memorial was. I heard one veteran comment, “Something like this… I don’t mind our government spending my money on!” There were local groups of volunteers that were standing by to cheer for these veterans and welcome them to their memorial as they got off the bus.

While at the memorial, I walked around and offered to take their pictures. Some of the feisty veterans said they preferred to have a “pretty girl” in their pictures so they asked for me to be in their pictures instead, to which I happily obliged. A few of the veterans were even more flirtatious. I spent some time talking to a veteran named Lionel and when I mentioned my husband, he said, “You’re married? What am I doing wasting my time talking to you?” I told him I would let him know if things didn’t work out with my marriage.

In addition to visiting the WWII Memorial, we also visited the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery to watch the Changing of the Guard. It was a lot for these senior veterans to do all in one day. It was enough to wear out even the young volunteers! But the veterans didn’t complain about being tired because for them, this was the opportunity of a lifetime and they didn’t want to miss a thing!

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Of the 16 million WWII veterans, only about 2 million are still alive, and almost 900 of them die every single day! The Honor Flight Network is committed to flying as many of the surviving WWII veterans as they possibly can to Washington, DC so they can visit and reflect at their memorials before it is too late. If you live in the DC area and you would like to volunteer, please visit http://honorflightdca.wordpress.com/ to view the schedule of when volunteers are needed. If you are outside of the DC area, you can still get involved by volunteering with your local Honor Flight hub.

Editor’s note: I had volunteered with the expectation of being assigned to one veteran as his guardian with hopes of interacting with that veteran for the entire day. However, the 50 veterans that flew to DC from SW Florida were already assigned their personal guardians for the day. Their guardians assisted them in getting to the airport and made the journey with them from Florida. The role of the local volunteers was more of a floater/general escort. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get the one-on-one interaction that I was hoping for, but I was still proud to participate in such a worthy cause.

Inspiration Incarnate

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A couple of weeks ago, Rob and I went out for dinner and a movie. I didn’t know much about the movie we were about to see. I only knew that it was a documentary and that it involved veterans. I walked into the theater blind, not knowing what to expect. But I left knowing exactly what I needed to do! It was absolutely the most amazing feeling to watch this movie and feel truly inspired. I have felt inspiration before, but not quite like this. It was the kind of feeling that became more than a feeling, because it demanded action. I left the movie theater knowing that I needed to get involved with this project immediately!

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(BTW – Our local movie theater has these sweet, plush recliners!)

The movie is called Honor Flight and it documents a non-profit organization that flies WWII veterans to Washington, DC so they can visit their memorials. Of the 16 million WWII veterans, only about 2 million are still alive. But, almost 900 of them die every single day! And most of them have never been to Washington, DC to see the memorials erected in their honor. The Honor Flight Network has made it their mission to fly as many of the surviving veterans as they possibly can to Washington, DC so they can visit and reflect at their memorials before it is too late.

As a veteran myself, I have the utmost respect for ALL of our nation’s veterans. But, I am ashamed to admit that I had never really given much thought about our WWII veterans. Why is that? Maybe it is because that generation never talked about their experiences during the war. They came home, put their duffle bags in the basement, and acted as if they had never been gone to begin with. Both of my grandfathers were WWII veterans. I was very young when one of them died, but I was always close with my paternal grandfather. I knew he was a veteran and I knew he was a recipient of the Purple Heart. But other than that, I knew nothing of his experiences. I recently asked my dad if my grandfather ever spoke of the war to him. No, he hadn’t. His memories remained locked up in those duffle bags that were banished to the basement.

I am an Iraqi War veteran and watching this movie made me realize that my grandfather and I might have been able to bond with each other telling our war stories. He might have been willing to unlock those duffle bags and open up to me about his experiences if I was willing to share my stories with him as well. Sadly, we never got the chance. My grandfather passed away while I was still deployed to Iraq. His stories will remain untold.

While the opportunity has passed for me to learn about my grandfather’s experiences, I still have the chance to make a difference in the lives of other WWII veterans. The Honor Flight Network covers all of the expenses to fly veterans to Washington, DC, as well as arrange their meals and transportation around the city. But, they still need volunteers to help the veterans get around. Given their age, most of them are either in wheelchairs or need assistance walking. That is where I come in. I have volunteered to become a guardian for upcoming Honor Flight missions. Each veteran gets assigned to their own guardian that will remain with them throughout the day. It is the guardian’s responsibility to help the veteran get around, take care of his general well-being, and basically treat him like a VIP for the day. Living so close to Washington, DC, getting involved with this program was a no-brainer for me. I am currently signed up for my first guardian-ship on Saturday, May 4th and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all. Please stay tuned. But in the meantime, please watch the Honor Flight movie trailers below and help spread the word about this worthy program. If you would like to volunteer to be a guardian (all-day commitment) or an airport greeter (not an all-day commitment), please email DCA.Honorflight@gmail.com. To view the schedules for needed volunteers, please visit http://honorflightdca.wordpress.com/. If you would like to donate money rather than your time, please visit the Honor Flight Network.

What inspires you? Has the feeling of inspiration ever taken such a hold on you that it turned into more than a feeling? What inspires you to actually step up and get involved or to try to make a difference?

Of all the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation – and as a culturally diverse, free society.” ~ Honor Flight Network


Send a Message with a Bottle (of ketchup, that is)

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While recently dining out (on Veterans’ Day), I noticed the bottle of Heinz ketchup on the table had a special “Our Turn to Serve” label. For a second year, Heinz has partnered with the USO and the Wounded Warrior Project to help support our troops. How it works: There is a quick response (QR) code on the back of specially marked bottles that can be scanned with a smartphone. The code gives access to step-by-step instructions on how to send a personalized “Thank You” card to a veteran. For every “Thank You” sent, Heinz will donate $1 to the Wounded Warrior Project.

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Of course I had to try this out! I scanned the code with my handy iPhone and I was immediately prompted to select a post card design. After selecting the post card, I entered my name and email address and then typed a personal message to one of our troops to thank them for their service. You can then choose to send the post card to a particular troop you many know, or you can allow the USO to pick a troop at random. This took less than 5 minutes and I was able to send a post card to a service member for free and in turn, Heinz donated $1 to the Wounded Warrior Project. This is what I like to call a Win/Win situation!

If you don’t want to search for the specially marked bottles (or if you don’t have a smartphone to scan the code), you can also participate online by clicking here. Please spread the word for these two very noble causes.

Veterans’ Day Appreciation = Good for the Soul, Bad for the Waistline

Even though it has been almost 8 years since I separated from the army, it still means a lot when people take a moment to say “Happy Veterans’ Day.” I am extremely fortunate to have wonderful friends and family that sent cards, picked up the phone, typed emails, or even sent a simple text message to thank me for my service. Those two simple words…thank you…mean a great deal to veterans. Don’t ever discount that due to the simplicity of the gesture. It means a lot when those close to you take a moment to express their gratitude. Interestingly enough, it was seemingly more meaningful when complete strangers recently did the same thing.

Every year, there are a lot of businesses that offer free meals and/or special discounts for veterans. I applaud all of the participating businesses for their gesture of appreciation and I wish that more companies would follow their lead. This past Veterans’ Day, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of others (both corporate and individuals). To begin with, I was treated to a free bagel from Einstein Bros. Bagels for lunch and a fabulous entrée at McCormick & Schmicks for dinner. McCormick & Schmicks honors veterans every year and I enjoy going there because their food is delicious. This year, I went solo because my husband was working and since I was by myself, I ended up sitting at the bar. The bartender asked if I was a veteran (so he could provide the special Veterans’ Day menu) and when I answered in the affirmative several people at the bar chimed in to thank me for my service. There were other veterans there, of course, and I thanked them for their service as well. It ended up being a wonderful dinner with complete strangers. People who know me well would probably be surprised by that because I am usually very quiet around people that I don’t know very well. Nonetheless, I enjoyed conversation with veterans from every war era, as well as civilians who never served. As I was saying my goodbyes to my fellow diners, the woman next to me, Ruth, shook my hand and then pulled me in for a hug. Those who know me well, also know that I am not a touchy-feely kind of person. Generally speaking, I do not like a lot of physical contact…especially with strangers. But for some reason, I genuinely welcomed the hug from this woman I had just met. It was so sincere. It was her way of both thanking me for my service, as well as expressing how grateful she was that I made it home safe and sound. I felt all of that just from this woman’s hug. I left the restaurant that night with a huge smile on my face and a warmth in my heart. The free meal was nice, but the appreciation of others was priceless.

Because Veterans’ Day fell on a Sunday this year, the federally observed holiday became Monday, November 12. Some of the participating businesses were offering special deals to veterans on Sunday, while others were doing so on Monday. A few over-achievers were even offering specials on both days! On Monday, Rob and I went out for lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and they treated me to a free pizza and a free drink. As we were getting ready to leave, the manager came by to shake my hand and thank me for my service and as if that wasn’t awesome enough….he gave Rob and I both an additional coupon for a free pizza at a later date!

As if my body actually needed more calories for the day, we went to Champps for dinner on Monday because they were offering a free cheeseburger and fries to vets. I just happened to be wearing my “I ‘heart’ my paramedic” shirt and the manager on duty that night was also a paramedic. To make a long story short, that shirt led to Rob getting the same Veterans’ Day treatment that I had been enjoying for the past 36 hours.

However, what actually made my Veterans’ Day even more special was that I received my first email from one of the soldiers that I adopted in Afghanistan. He received the care package that I sent him just in time for Veterans’ Day. It really was the perfect way to end my Veterans’ Day festivities, going full circle, if you will. I felt like I was given the royal treatment for two whole days and it was nice to pass along my own appreciation to those still serving. Did you thank a veteran this past Veterans’ Day?

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The restaurants mentioned above are just a few of the businesses that offered special discounts for veterans. To see the full list, click here.

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