During the weekend of Oct. 11-13, I was privileged to participate in the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., for veterans to view the monuments and memorials dedicated to the veterans of America’s wars.
Twenty-five veterans — 20 of World War II and five from the Korean War — with an attendant for each one made the trip by bus. Flight officials referred to the attendants as “guardians.”
The trip was inspirational and superbly organized by Edie Lowry, president of Honor Flight of East Tennessee and her assistant, retired Air Force officer Allen Jackson.
Although the trip had been planned for months, at the last minute it appeared that it might be delayed or postponed because of the government shutdown, the monuments, as were all federal parks, were closed and barricaded. After conferring with national Honor Flight officials, Edie dispatched the flight as scheduled.
Our first stop was at the D-Day Monument in Bedford, Va. This city of approximately 4,500, without federal funding or help, raised $26 million to develop a monument to D-Day. The effort was prompted by the fact that the local National Guard unit was part of the invasion party that stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day and suffered the most casualties of the units that scaled the cliffs in the face of German fire.
On a hill above the city, they have developed a replica of the cliff and bunkers of Omaha Beach. Visitors are escorted though the exhibit by volunteers who are enthusiastic about the project and proud of the part soldiers from their community played in the invasion of Europe.
A motorcycle squadron with American flags trailing in the breeze escorted us the remainder of the way to the headquarters of the American Legion Post in Fairfax, Va., where we were served a banquet meal of prime rib, or salmon since it was Friday, before we were put up at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria.
Saturday morning, we toured the World War II monument. The barricades were opened and we gathered at the pillar designated for Tennessee for a ceremony where the names of deceased veterans from East Tennessee were read. Impressive as the ceremony was, the event was made more memorable for me when the speaker asked for me to identify myself in the crowd because there was someone who wanted to see me. Two young women and a little girl made their way to where I was seated in my wheelchair. The older of the two introduced herself as the daughter of George and Dot Smith of Johnson City, the younger was her daughter and her grandchild. She explained she lived in Washington and when she learned I would be in the Honor Flight, she wanted to meet me.
Her father had been a member of our Retired Old Men Eating Out breakfast group. We had a picture taking session with the 4-year-old granddaughter and I vowed to bring a copy of it to her great-grandmother. With today’s communications technology, I should not have been surprised, that when I arrived home my wife informed me that Great-Grandmother Dot showed her the photo at Mass on Saturday night.
In the afternoon we visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where, during the changing of the guard ceremony, a member of our flight place a wreath on the tomb. The wreath was placed by Katherine Purcott, who served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. She was escorted by U.S. Rep. Phil Roe in a very impressive ceremony.
We toured the Air Force monument after lunch before rain interrupted our schedule and we retreated back to the Legion headquarters in Fairfax where we were served another buffet-style evening meal and entertained by a lively combo.
Another moving family event occurred at the motel later that evening — the Purcott family gathered at the hotel to celebrate Katherine’s great-granddaughter’s fourth birthday. Present were Katherine; her daughter Karen, who served as Katherine’s attendant on the flight; Katherine’s son Robert of Johnson City, who had attended me throughout the trip; and another daughter who lives in North Carolina and members of her family drove up for the celebration.
Before returning to Johnson City on Sunday, we made an hour stop at the Korean War Monument near the Lincoln Memorial, which we had skipped on Saturday because of the rain. Protesters had removed the barricades and placed them in a pile.
A group of nearly a hundred Koreans visiting the monument were eager to have their photos taken with the veterans who had liberated their country.
The flight provided an inspirational reminder of the values we fought for and the sacrifices made by many. I find it distressing the way those values are being discarded and trampled by the current generation.
Murvin Perry of Johnson City is a retired professor of journalism.