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S.C. veterans take special flight Print E-mail

Returning to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport from Washington D.C., the terminal was packed with adoring greeters -- some active military, many veterans. There were lots of families, at least one of which with four generations on hand. There were law enforcement personnel and troops of Boy Scouts. There were balloons, signs, banners, flags, and salutes. Some wept. An Army band played patriotic music.

It was a fitting end to a daylong trip all of us will remember for a lifetime.

I had just had the honor of traveling with 90 World War II veterans to the World War II Memorial at the nation’s capitol. The trip was sponsored by Honor Flight SC, a program that flies veterans, all expenses paid, to see “their monument.” I had traveled as a “guardian,” a volunteer who contributes time and his or her own expenses to ensure the veterans enjoy a comfortable and meaningful experience.

Upon approaching the terminal at Reagan National Airport, our plane passed under an arching water salute from local firefighters.

Workers on the tarmac guided our pilots with American flags. Entering the terminal, the veterans were greeted by decorations, flags, and well-wishers and were provided a patriotic tribute by the National Symphony Orchestra. Other travelers stopped to see what the fuss was all about. Faces illuminated with smiles, eyes filled with tears, and hands clapped with pride as these aging veterans deplaned, some walking, some leaning on walkers or canes, and many in wheel chairs.

Aside from the World War II Memorial, the veterans visited the Korean, Viet Nam, and Iwo Jima memorials. They toured Arlington National Cemetery, and witnessed the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

They were showered with affection and appreciation, often encountering groups of students or tourists who took the opportunity to thank them for their service. Students posed for pictures with them as if they were rock stars, and many of these young kids hugged their necks and kissed their cheeks as if they were their grandparents. There were so many emotional occasions.

This was an overwhelming show of gratitude to the men and women who valiantly served our nation so that we all may enjoy the freedoms and quality of life we too often take for granted. It was also a special chance for veterans to reflect, share private stories, and enjoy the comradeship of others who like them had endured the miseries and dangers of combat.

It was a moving experience for the veterans, but not just for the veterans. It was also emotional for the volunteers (which included local television personality Joe Pinner, radio personalities Charlie Benton and Kevin Cohen and Honor Flight’s South Carolina organizer, Bill Dukes). It certainly was not lost on us that we were traveling to a sacred place with extremely special men and women whose ranks are declining by an estimated 1,000 per day – true American heroes to whom our nation is indebted. To watch them relive war-time memories alongside fellow veterans and reflect back on those with whom they served, was a solemn reminder of how the United States, and indeed the world, would be far different if not for their sacrifices.

Honor Flight is financed by private donations and fundraisers. For more information on Honor Flight, or to learn ways you can support this noble cause, visit www.honorflightsc.com or call (803) 582-8826.

Editor’s Note:

Harvey Kling, a World War II Veteran, was on this Honor Flight and he said it was one of the most humbling experiences of his life.

“I felt so honored and loved by the people at the airport and on the bus. We were escorted through Washington, DC while all the traffic was stopped,” said Kling. “While I was at the World War II Memorial, a young Japanese college student came up tome and said he apologized for what his ancestors did to me.”

Kling went on to say, “In 1944 and 1945, when I was in the middle of the war, I never realized how important it was to America, but now I do.”

 
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