Honor Flights: Welcoming World War II Vets to D.C.

My grandfather was a Veteran of World War II and Korea. He died in 1998, six years before the completion of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. As I was getting ready to leave my apartment on Saturday morning, I felt like I was getting ready to go greet him.

I was headed to Reagan National Airport for the arrival of several Honor Flights. The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit that transports Veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their memorials. There is priority given to the most senior Vets—with service during World War II—and those with terminal illnesses.


The flights I was there to welcome came from Charlotte, North Carolina and southeast Minnesota, and each plane carried about 180 World War II Veterans. I didn’t quite know what to expect when I got to the gate, but it was a well-oiled machine: the bench seats had been moved aside, there were plastic chairs set out for the band, balloons, U.S. flags, service flags, and signs. The group of people gathered was about as diverse as you could imagine: young, old, Veterans, police officers, firefighters, Active Duty military, and their families.

I met some other VA employees while we all waited for touchdown, and they told me that as a “newbie,” I was probably going to cry. I’d anticipated that already. It started in the morning, wishing that one of the Veterans coming off the plane to see his memorial could have been my grandpa.

A voice over the loud speaker announced the first plane was wheels down, and invited anyone in the airport not loading a plane to head over to the gate. The band started warming up, and a crowd gathered, many of them waving flags. As the plane approached, two airport fire trucks formed an arch of water for it to roll under, and it arrived at the gate. Medical personnel deplaned first, and the band played the Star Spangled Banner.

The first Veteran came off in a wheel chair, his eyes wide as he took in the sites and sounds—music, flags, and a gate full of people waiting for him, eager to honor his service.

The handshakes, thank you’s and songs didn’t stop for the next 45 minutes as Veteran after Veteran came off the plane. Some were in wheelchairs, and had oxygen tanks. Some used walkers and others were able to move through the throngs of people with ease. Most were grinning, some flirted, and a few were so overwhelmed they cried. And as predicted, so did I.

Shaking their wrinkled and time-weathered hands, grasping their thin shoulders and looking into their smiling faces and watering eyes, it was like hugging my grandpa again. These Veterans, like my grandpa, were the embodiment of the Greatest Generation. It didn’t take much to make their day, and they didn’t come to D.C. for honor and recognition. But they sure loved us being there. To be honest, I don’t know if my grandpa would have signed up for an Honor Flight, knowing that a hundred people and a band would be waiting for him. He didn’t like a big fuss— but he would have taken it all in and appreciated it, smiled and shook hands with the crowd.

After the last Veteran deplaned, I turned and looked behind me and realized that a tunnel of people had formed, applauding the Veterans all the way out of the terminal as they made their way to the busses. It was the end of their arrival, and the start of a long day of touring.

The slideshow below includes a handful of photos I took at the event.

If you’re interested in volunteering in the D.C. area, you can visit this website to contact volunteer coordinators. If you know a Veteran who would like to come to D.C. on an Honor Flight, applications are available here.

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15 Comments to “Honor Flights: Welcoming World War II Vets to D.C.”

  1. Terry says:

    I Enjoyed your blog.
    I almost ran over an older gentlemean at the post office last week & he had a WWII hat on. As I said sorry for almost running him over I then told him I liked his hat. After it took him a moment to digest what I just said, I then told him my husband was Vietnam marine corp veteran. Just casual passing by conversation. He proceeded to tell me about his mission at hiroshima, we were both in tears there in the post office lobby. I patted his arm & thanked him for his service. Then we parted ways and he slowly walked with his cane back to his car A simple trip to the post office that day touched my heart forever!

  2. brenda says:

    Just over a week ago my son(newly returned from Iraq deployment-2nd)was able to be his grandfather’s escort on HonorFlight to Washington DC. Both were enriched by the experience. My father still becomes overwhelmed when speaking of the trip and the wonderful folks involved in both the outgoing and returning flights.

  3. Al Murphy says:

    All honors to the vets and to the volunteers who turn out for these flights. I can’t think of a more lasting memorial to the vets than the human welcoming spirit of the volunteers. It will never be forgotten.

    My best wishes to everyone who takes the time to make Honor Flights possible.

  4. Soepeno says:

    On behalf of humanity and a sense of humane, this is very important to be supported and developed, even should become an example for all countries in the world.

  5. Kym says:

    I am so glad to read WWII veterans are getting to see the memorial, since my Dad was involved with the 761st Tank Battalion, aka the Black Panthers, a Black tank regiment that was very instrumental in the victories of this War. As his daughter, a career Hospital Corpsman veteran, and a Gulf War veteran, who learned to serve my family, community, country and God, I wish he lived to see this memorial, since he instilled those values into me, and the legacy continues with my children… I hope to find his Purple Heart, that he was never rewarded, and place it upon his gravesite, along with a photo of this memorial. My family learned alot about the aspects of this war from the men who had to fight not only for their own rights in their own country, but for the rights of others, who were denied through genocide… So, one day, I hope to bring my children to this site to remember the reason why we fight for our family, our community, our country, and through strength of our God, who loves all of us, not by suppressing our right to express our joy of Him/Her through a dictatorship or prejudice… Thanks Dad, we understand your sacrifice, so we can experience democracy, and the right to personal expression… Fair winds…

  6. Matthew Baum says:

    A very nice article! As the founder of the BWI airport Honor Flight ground crew that greets these American heroes at BWI, I can honestly say, if you haven’t experienced this, you don’t know what you are missing. Being so involved with Honor Flight for the past five years has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done.

    At BWI the entire concourse gets involved and standing ovations the entire length of the concourse has not been uncommon. However, when active duty service men and women are present at the gate (and they usually are), the emotions flow like a river among all involved. All the volunteers involved in this effort know very well that we actually are re writing the final chapter, and in some cases the final paragraph or sentence in the lives of these greatest Generation heroes is truely an honor beyond measure. I urge you, the person reading this article and these posts, to locate the nearest Honof Flight hub, and volunteer your time. I will garauntee you will not regret, or forget an minute of it.

    Matthew Baum
    BWI Honor Flight Coordinator
    VHA Central Office

  7. Terrific post. Loved the story — and I can relate. My grandfather fought in the Pacific as a Navy Commander during WWII. He died late last year. Maybe I’ll get his great grandson to one of these Honor Flights so he can see what this great generation is like.

    Thanks,
    Jonah

  8. Diane Craig says:

    What an honor and a privilege to serve the men and women of this country who have given so much for our freedoms. As a Veteran’s Affairs employee, I first hand see every day these brave Americans. I applaud this Honor Of Flight Memorial which these veterans so deserve.I look forward to a volunteer effort in serving in this capacity in the near future.God bless you.God Bless America.

  9. James C. Kea says:

    What a beautiful and rewarding thing to do for WWII veterans. Something Vietnam veterans were politically denied. However let me address that I see few Black veterans amongst the groups and it might be due to the prejudice of our country during and after the war. Blacks fought side by side fo the same country but yet denied to date VA benefits. Some how we must endorse and encourage Blacks to join in on the flights.

    A Veteran
    James C. Kea, SMSgt,USAFRet

  10. Jon says:

    Dear Vantage Point,
    Please bring back Tom Pamperin, or someone else who can write an informative and useful blog.
    The quality and usefulness of this website is going downhill quickly. It was great to see a high level VA executive openly sharing and responding to concerns faced by veterans. Unfortunately, over the past few months, I have been disappointed by the subjects being written about here.
    A few suggestions- “Common problems veterans experience with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and what you can do”
    “What you can do if you don’t feel as though you’ve received quality medical treatment through the VA”
    “A breakdown of various services, benefits, and programs offered by the VA”
    I believe “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the prblem”, so I will offer to help in any way I can. Thank you.

  11. Dr Jan Meyer says:

    As a volunteer with the Southeast Minnesota Honor Flight hub, I can attest to the impact of the DC volunteers on the success of this wonderful nationwide endeavor. I went on my first Honor Flight as a guardian, and the next three–the most recent on 21 May–as a team leader. Over and over again I have been impressed with the coordination and support you DC people provide. And then I remember that you do it for every flight that arrives, not just our SE MN group. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

    Like Ms. Slider, my tears started flowing the first time I was pushing a vet’s wheelchair off the jetway and became aware of what awaited our heroes. But to be honest, it happens every time, and several times during the day in DC, so I always take a lot of Kleenex along. And it happened again when reading this wonderful article. Thanks for writing it!

    Jan Meyer, Lanesboro, Minnesota

  12. Sarah Darty says:

    Here’s an inspiring story I stumbled onto online. I thought it was worth sharing with our brave veterans:

    Last living survivor of WWI inspires Grammy winner from country band SHENANDOAH to write song ‘THE GREATEST GENERATION’ in tribute to our brave WWII veterans.

    Read article here: http://bit.ly/qBZZjc. Listen to clip of the song here: http://bit.ly/akldzU

  13. This is such an awesome program. Wish my grandpa was still alive to participate in it. He was in WWII.