By Power of Human Achievement Contributor Joe Dean
Authors note: In honor of Throw Back Thursday I am reprising this “inside baseball” Honor Flight memo. More importantly, I share this in honor of the upcoming 71st Anniversary of D-Day and the AMAZING volunteers who will be hosting 140 veteran heroes this Saturday, June 6th. The “Let’s Fly” series was a staple of our pre-flight communication for the then, new, organization several years ago.
The Obituary of Adolph Roberts read like so many tributes: painfully few sentences, each phrase competing with one another in a losing battle to describe the enormity of a life well lived. More so, when the man is our hero; having served in the US Army as a teenager, then 70 years later, joining our merry band on a trip to Washington, DC. The Obit ends with a tip of the hat to Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. “His most meaningful day” the death notice said. Then this: “Every Day is a Bonus!”
Heading into Memorial Day, we think of the 4048 stars on the Wall of Freedom. We think about the Korean Memorial, Vietnam, Iwo, WWII, and those lives lost in the Middle East and elsewhere in honor of our Republic. And, the War to End all Wars: WWI. My Great Grandfather’s brother died there. If you have seen the movie War Horse, you saw his ghost…in the scene with the Mustard Gas. Teenagers, trenches, terror. More recently, a Gold Star hung in Grandma’s window for her fighter pilot child. Paul David Wehrlick, giving his life for you and me, he died the very day his son was born.
Memorial Day is no stranger to you, dear volunteer. Nor of course to those we serve. On this Memorial Day and every day we remember together, along with your peers – the most altruistic volunteers on the planet – Team Stars and Stripes Honor Flight! We honor those reluctant, peace loving warriors who are with us still. They are aging, tired, joyful and dignified. Some are remarkably strong. Still, I am always struck by the “weakest” among them. Last trip, it was an 88 year old, strapped for nearly 20 hours in his wheel chair. He grimaced as loving arms loaded him on and off the bus. On and off again. And, again. Then, yet again. As the brave-hearted hero tried not to yell out with each bump and jostling, I thought two things:
How can he do this? Then, imagine HOW IMPORTANT it is for him to be here!
At days end, heading out of Arlington, I was met with the dusky reflection of the caring crew on the “Blue Bus” – all eyes on the brave-hearted…all hearts pulling for him. As he rose in the wheel chair lift for the final time that April 28 day, he smiled, white-knuckled on the arms of his chair, an immensely good sport. “What a day!” he said. Above me now, he disappeared, pulled backward by helping, anonymous, selfless hands emblematic of our team. It was one moment in a day of moments…another one for the history books.
Mr. Brave-hearted died five days later. Now you see them. Now you don’t.
Last week, his family sent a note: “THANK YOU HONOR FLIGHT FOR THIS MARVELOUS EXPERIENCE – our Navy man has reached his summit!” We responded, with a “Thank You” on your behalf. And, we closed with the obvious for such a gentle, tenacious, wheel chair bound Shipmate:
On June 6th we fly again. Prepare yourself team! Steel yourself for the joyful chaos. Twenty hours of the wild ride Stars and Stripes Honor Flight experience…followed by a life time to remember.
Be good. Let’s Fly!
Joe Dean is Founder of Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. Learn more HERE
Editors note: You may witness the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Homecoming Parade of Veterans this Saturday, June 6, 2015 at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. Veterans typically arrive by 8pm. Large crowds are expected so please plan accordingly.