SAVANNAH, Ga. - On May 16, 2014, I had the honor of being a guardian for two World War II veterans, and one Korean War veteran on their trip to Washington, D.C., with Honor Flight Savannah. This organization raises money to bring veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and other conflicts, who have serious medical conditions to Washington D.C., so they can see the monuments that our country has raised in their honor.
Veterans remember Navy Store Keeper 3rd Class Dan Thompson at the World War II Memorial, in Washington, May 17, 2014, who passed away before he could go on the Honor Flight. (Photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Streeper, 4th IBCT, 3rd ID)
I wanted to do this event because I enjoy helping out veterans and really enjoy their stories. When I found out about Honor Flight I was hoping to get picked to be a guardian so I could share this experience with them and I was lucky to be one of the few that were selected.
As guardians, we met the veterans we'd be escorting on the trip that morning at the 165th Airlift Wing in Savannah. There were coffee and other assorted breakfast items for everyone to take in before the trip.
Maj. Gen. John Murray, Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Gilpin and “Rocky,” the 3rd ID mascot, were there to greet the veterans and say a few words. Before the buses were loaded there was a short ceremony where a letter was read from the wife of a veteran, Navy Store Keeper 3rd Class Dan Thompson, who was scheduled to go on the trip but passed away in January. This served as reminder that many of our World War II veterans are passing away without the chance to see the memorials erected in their honor.
The veterans were shocked as they headed out to the bus and they were greeted by a veteran's motorcycle club that had American flags lined on both sides of the sidewalk leading up to the bus. Also, Soldiers from the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade and Airmen from the 165th Airlift Wing saluted the veterans as Murray and Gilpin gave them one last handshake at the bus doors before we departed. The motorcycle club then escorted the bus until it reached I-95.
Once on the road the war stories started to come out as veterans began talking to each other and the guardians. One Air Force veteran served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. One of my veterans told me how he served under Gen. Patton. I would sit there like a little kid in a candy store listening and trying to take it all in. These veterans are our living military legacy.
Dinner was scheduled to be served at 7:30 p.m. after our arrival, but we arrived around 10 p.m. because of a tire problem. Since we were going to be late, the restaurant manager asked the staff if anyone could stay and help serve the veterans, and the whole staff who was supposed to be off waited for us to arrive. The servers all had smiles and greeted the veterans thanking them for their service. That night I could not have been more proud that my fellow Americans would also sacrifice their time for the veterans.
When we left the hotel the next morning we were given a bus tour of Washington D.C. The veterans were taking in the city because they were seeing it for the first time.
Our first stop was the World War II Memorial. Waiting for us to arrive was an admiral, an Air Force major general, and an Army major general, along with military members from each branch. All the veterans were gathered to honor them in a ceremony, to include the memory of Navy Store Keeper 3rd Class Dan Thompson. The military color guard marched out in front and a bugler played taps. The Honor Flight veterans and the active duty there to see them all saluted when taps were being played and tears ran down the faces of some of the veterans. This was very emotional seeing these veterans remember their fallen comrades. After the ceremony was over, people started to form a line to shake their hands while others would just walk up to the veterans and say thank you.
Next we went to the Iwo Jima Memorial and to the Air Force Memorial and had a box lunch after. While eating lunch the veterans started telling stories of the rations they had while at war. Their stories made me really appreciate our chow halls while I was deployed.
Following lunch the tour headed to Arlington National Cemetery to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. After the change was complete, a member of the Honor Guard thanked the veterans and talked about the history of the Honor Guard and the cemetery. Then Lt. Gen. James Huggins from the Pentagon greeted the veterans and thanked them for their service. Huggins then met the veterans at John C. McKinney Memorial Stables where members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment explained the history of the stables and gave a tour.
Once Huggins said his goodbyes to the veterans it was on to Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. While at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, all the veterans from that war stood together for a picture. The veterans then walked to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. While we were there a Marine veteran found a name of a friend he served with. This was my third time seeing the wall but being there seeing this Marine find his friend's name and stand there pointing at it sent chills down my spine.
Our last stop in Washington, D.C., was to the U.S. Navy Memorial. We had dinner next and after everyone received their food, all the veterans were talking about the day of visiting the memorials. I was listening to a group talk about how surprised they were that generals were waiting to see them. There was a lot of talk about how much they appreciated having memorials in honor of them, their fellow patriots, and for the fallen. After dinner was finished it was time to head back on the bus for the drive back to Savannah.
This trip was amazing, not only for the veterans, but for me getting the chance to be a guardian to escort these veterans. I could listen to the stories of their experiences during the wars of their time all day long. Visit Honor Flight Savannah' website or more information about this noble effort.
By U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Streeper
Provided through DVIDS
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