In 1953, when my father came home from the Korean Conflict, he didn’t get a “Welcome Home”. He, and the rest of his unit, was dropped of in Fort Knox, KY., (because it was the closest to his home in Fort Gay, WV). Some took buses; others had made arrangements for rides home. As the buses were all full, my dad and one of his buddies, who lived in Clarksburg, found a cabbie who was off duty and he agreed to take them to Huntington first, and then his buddy to Clarksburg, for $150. There were no parades, receptions at bus stations or airports. You simply came home and went back to your life. You found a job, hopefully one that would provide you a future.
Flash forward, sixty years to Saturday, May 11, 2013. Early that morning a group of “heroes” began to gather at Tri-State Airport in Huntington, WV eager to visit their war memorials, in the nations capital, that most of them have heard of, seen in pictures, but didn’t dream they would ever get to see. Nor did they dream they would ever get to do it for FREE!
One by one, these men/women, these heroes gathered. Moving about, some slower than others, they reminisced with one another about their service, where they were stationed, what action they saw, when they came home, and remembering the ones who didn’t get to come home. They came, proudly wearing their ribbonry from their uniforms, rank insignia, chevrons, qualification badges, combat infantry badges, wings, and infantry garrisons. Some wore hats from the war they were a part of. Proud men. Good men. They gathered.
The call came to board the airplane and one by one, some with assistance, some in wheel chairs, on canes, with oxygen; they boarded the plane that would take them on the journey that they wouldn’t soon forget! The celebration started before we left the ground. The ROTC displayed colors, the local fire departments created a water cannon over the plane as a salute to these HEROES. This was the beginning.
With a plane full of heroes, we took off for D.C. Upon arrival, these HEROES got the WELCOME HOME reception, which was for some, a half century late. In the walk way, leading to the terminal, there were active members of the USS WV, waiting to shake hands and say thank you to these HEROES who had come before them and set a precedent.
Inside the terminal there were hundreds of people gathered to say thank you. There was a band playing Stars and Stripes, boy scouts, and people of every nationality, waiting to shake the hands of these HEROES, most with tears streaming down their faces, me included. The faces of the Veterans lit up like little children. It truly was something to see and I feel so blessed to have been a part of it.
We went with Honor Flight, whose sole mission is to make sure EVERY veteran gets to visit his or her memorial, at no cost to them. And on this day, they did just that. I went as a guardian. Someone who will walk with or push a HERO in a wheelchair, and make sure their day is care free.
We began at the World War II Memorial, then to Korean, and to Vietnam. We also went to the Lincoln Memorial, FDR, Marine, and Air Force Memorials. We did a driving tour of D.C and Arlington Memorial Cemetary. When the time came to go home, I think we were all ready to go and share our stories with family and friends.
The reception at Tri-State Airport, upon our return, was beautiful. Families and friends gathered to see their loved ones, other Veterans holding beautiful American flags, they had all fought, as young men, to defend. Now they are old but the memory of this day will live with them forever.
I was blessed to get to share this day with my dad who will be 82 in July and, who as a young country boy, left his home to go to a land far away, to defend OUR freedom, just as these other men did.
Thank you Earl Morris for coming up with the idea of Honor Flight and seeing it through.
Thank you HEROES for first, fighting for MY freedom and second, for sharing your stories with me.
Thank you daddy for being a great, God fearing man, who was there when your country needed you and for being an example of what a good man really is.
I will never forget this day!