You’d have to know my Dad. He is quiet, unassuming and soft-spoken. He’s a Swede! On May 16 this man, accompanied by my brother (as a guardian) flew on a charter flight from Grand Rapids Michigan to Washington DC, and back…in a day. Why you might wonder, would a 94 year-old-man, on hospice, do such a thing. Let me explain…
He flew on a Vet Honor Flight (Talons Out) to see the WWll memorial and others in DC. The trip for him was free. My brother paid $500 to cover his cost and to help defray the cost of this trip. The flight was 110 vets, 110 guardians, 6volunteer EMT’s, bus captains and assistant bus captains, reporters and photographers from the local news stations. The vets were in blue WWll Talons out shirts and the guardians were in identical red shirts.
When we got the call that he’d been chosen, he was all in. I’ll admit to some misgivings, as would most, if not all, of my family. My niece told them he was on hospice care…”not a problem’ she was told. These flights are fully medically supported and the only thing that would have held him back was a feeding tube, otherwise, oxygen or no oxygen, wheelchair or walker, they would take him. And he, although nervous, never looked back.
My oldest brother works in DC and lives in Alexandria Va. He and his wife volunteered to be greeters at the airport, meaning they could get passes to get through security and greet all the vets as they deplaned. Then they would drive and meet my Dad and brother at each venue.
So that morning my niece drove my Dad and brother to the airport. Got them checked in for this flight, made sure they got some of the complementary breakfast and the watched as my brother wheeled my Dad up the ramp towards the plane. They walked, one vet/guardian at a time through lines of people clapping and wishing them “Godspeed”. She said she then went back to the car and sat and wept. Wept for all that it took to get to this day. And when her first text hit my phone, the tears began to flow and would continue at every text and phone call that came that day. My Dad was going on the trip but all of us carried he and my brother in our hearts.
My Dad was surprised to see my other brother and sister-in-law waiting at the gate and then…then the good times rolled. Escorted by park police who stopped traffic, the six buses move quickly and efficiently through grid-locked DC. They went to the Iwo Jima memorial where they were met with bottles of cold water, passed out by local cub scouts, on this hot, humid day. My sister-in-law was taking to the “bus captain” for my Dad’s bus and mentioned why they were there. He quickly said, “we have an extra seat on our bus and I think your husband should take it.” So he did and there was my Dad spending this special day with both his boys.
They went to Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard and a wreath laying ceremony. Next they went to the WWll memorial where they met up with my sister-in-law who had gone and gotten my Dad’s uniform which he proudly held on his lap during the group shot of all the Michigan WWll vets. He was also surprised when my oldest brother’s son, Dale and his finance, Brenna, arrived to see him and visit for a short while. Apparently my nephew was feeling under the weather as he’d called in sick to work. Thank goodness he recovered (wink, wink) in time to go see my Dad.
Also at the WWll memorial was Senator Bob Dole who had come to greet each and every vet. They would wheel a vet up on one side, he turn and talk to them, have a picture taken, then turn to a vet who had just arrived on his other side. When he found out my Dad had both his sons there, he insisted a picture be taken with both. What a good guy.
The age range of the vets was something like 86-100. As you might imagine, it is a production to get them on and off the motor coaches they drove them around town and unload the assorted wheel chairs and walkers needed at each venue. My brother commented it isn’t many places you see a line for the “Mens” bathroom!
They went to the FDR memorial where mess tents were set up for the catered dinner. Again my DC brother was able to stay have dinner with them. Many current duty military folk where there also, moving among and greeting the vets and thanking them for their service.
As dinner finished up it started to sprinkle and a mad dash (or as much as a dash as you can make with wheel chairs and walkers) was made for the buses. They headed for the airport through increasingly heavy rain. Once there, my brother’s pass from the morning, got him through security and to the gate with my Dad and brother. After they had boarded he decided to wait until the plane had actually pulled back from the gate before going home himself. All of a sudden alarms started going off and they quickly shut the door to the jet way with a dozen or so vets still waiting to board. They waited a long time before, with no explanation given, the rest boarded the plane. He said it was longer still before the plane pulled back and he never knew what happened. However my Dad, sitting in first class, was told that the plane had been struck by lightning. That knocked out all the electronics/controls and so everything had to be rebooted. (Wouldn’t that have been a headline…”Plane carrying WWll vets catches fire after being struck by lighting”…probably best not to go there.)
On the plane they had “mail call”. Friends and family were invited to send greetings which were then passed out to the vets. My Dad didn’t read his on the flight home, too much to process, but the next day he read and re-read each one with tears and amazement.
Meanwhile back at the ranch…umm…Grand Rapids, the doors to a local high school opened to the public at 7pm for an 8:30 expected arrival for a welcome home surprise/celebration for the vets. When they finally arrived (after almost a 2 hour delay in Washington) they land under the spray from local firetrucks and were greeted at the airport by countless people applauding. They decided to put my Dad in one of six waiting ambu-cabs, rather than have him transfer in and out of his wheel chair and climb the steps to the bus one more time. With 30 motorcycles’ in the lead, 6, ambu-cabs and 6 buses they made their way to the high school. The drive up to the door was lined with firetrucks, lights flashing, and firemen saluting and an enormous American flag raised between two ladder trucks.
Inside were thousands of people who had waited over three hours to greet these vets. Old people, girl scouts, cub scouts, teens and babies, waiting all that time for a chance to shake their hands and thank them for their service. One side of the halls was roped off with the public on one side and the vet and his guardian on the other side, walking one at a time.
By the time my Dad got home it had been a 19.5 hour day, no nap but much excitement to keep him going.
Since then he’s had a few rough days. He is still catching up on sleep and resting. But he is making progress.
Who would have though, when he came home on hospice last June, that this day would ever come. But it did. Can you say trip-of-a-lifetime? We are so blessed.
Thank you Dad for your service.