“Freedom Is Not Free”—Korean War Memorial (Nor is service in the interest of freedom lost on others.)
Sometime events in our lives are so intense and overwhelming that, at the time, in the actual living, they seem almost normal, something to move through, experience and process at another time. Then later, maybe the very next day, or maybe longer, you consider what has happened. Perhaps, you think about how that event happened, and all those who freely gave to make that event the overwhelmingly positive experience that it was in your life, and is now a special and important memory for you.
Such was my experience recently when I was privileged to be part of a Veterans Honor Flight to Washington DC. It was a rigorous day, beginning at 4 a.m. in preparation for our travel to the Air Force Reserve base where our experience and flight would begin. Accompanying me was my daughter, my “Guardian”, as required by Honor Flight. On this flight, there were 85 veterans and an equal number of guardians, along with Honor Flight volunteers to ensure our experience. Our day would end at 11:30 p.m., when we returned home, exhausted, and yet, energized.
I could share my impressions of the city of Washington DC, the beautiful memorials that we have to war. I understand that these memorials do not memorialize war but honor the blood of this nation sacrificed to assure our freedom. The sickening loss of lives in each of those conflicts or “Police Actions”. I have been to Washington several times. I had seen most of the memorials, except for those to Vietnam and Korea. The city and its memorials are impressive by any measure.
On our flight, we had veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and other police actions taken as a nation. I listened to the conversations. I watched the seriousness which many of us displayed as we walked around these memorials. It was clear that many of us were recalling experiences we had in those far-off places. An emotion based on experiences of one person can trigger similar emotions in others. Remembrances of tragedy, of heroism, of times too crazy, too bazaar even for MASH. Beneath the surface, all of the experiences, all the remembrances, all of the conversations, was a personal reaction that could not be shared. How do you describe with words the indescribable? How do you describe an emotion or a scene that defies the description? So, those memories remain buried, but then, sometimes, called up by circumstance.
For me, the overwhelmingly emotional experience occurred when we return that night to the Air National Guard base. There, at 10:30 p.m., we were greeted by upwards of 3,000 friends, relatives, children and friends I had yet to meet, all clapping, cheering, holding up flags and signs, reaching out to shake hands, being saluted, everyone saying “thank you for your service”. The crowd filled two rooms, a hallway and spilled out to line the street to the parking lot. As I made my way in the path through the crowd I was stunned by the enormity of what I was seeing and experiencing. There was my pastor and many of my congregation. Other dear friends and members of my community, some of whom had travelled over 100 miles to be there, just to say thank you to some vets and friends, just to cheer us on. There was the military band playing music, but that was lost in the cheers and the emotion of the moment.
But, there was more. While still on the plane, we had “mail call”! Every vet received a large fat envelope filled with cards, letters another types of greetings, each conveying the same message, “we are proud of you and we thank you for your service”. For most of us going through all those letters and cards and soaking up all of the greetings was an emotional act the next day. A card with a fighter biplane from Debbie in Findlay, OH. A heart-felt thank you from Norm and Kim. A hand colored flag from Cooper in Mrs. Kreider’s preschool class of South Whitley, IN. A hand-made card from Arahya. A Psalm 149:4 blessing. Unidentified elementary classes who all signed the “God Bless”. A wonderful card of a saluting vet from Drake. Thank you from Kate of Angola. A handmade card from Dawson. On and on through over 100 greetings and well-wishings, all opened, all read, all appreciated, all brought some tears, and, in my mind, giving thanks that I was able to serve and earn the title “Vet”.
A special thank you to Stef, my daughter and my guardian, for exemplary service beyond the call. You finally got to push me around!
There is one more point that needs to be made. The Northeast Indiana Honor Flight organization is amazing! I have no idea how many individuals volunteered their time to make this flight possible. I cannot imagine the logistics that are involved in putting on one of these flights, and this was the 25th staged by this organization. One of the cards I received asked: How do you thank a Vet? The answer is you salute. The Honor Flight Organization deserves all of our salutes and thank you’s.
God bless America.