Honor Flight Network is an organization that has been hurrying to bring our country’s aging veterans of World War II to Washington DC on privately funded one-day charter flights to experience the National World War II Memorial built to honor the 16 million men and women who served our nation in the armed forces during that war. Honor flights are literally racing against the clock to pay a small tribute to our warriors who are passing from this life at a rate of 700 each day.
Americans were aghast last month when they learned our government shamelessly prevented World War II veterans from visiting their memorial during the Government Shutdown. Undeterred, a Badger Honor Flight left Madison, Wisconsin “wheels up” before dawn early Saturday morning, October 19. Among its 88 veterans, was Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Gordon Grossmann, Sr., and at his side as a guardian sat his son and Delta Junction resident Bruce Grossmann.
Twenty-two of the 88 veterans on that flight served in WW II, but on this flight, Col. Grossmann was the sole veteran who also served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. His brother-in-law Philip Tarpley, a B-24 Liberator navigator in North Africa with 25 missions, was also on this Honor Flight with his guardian, Terry Tarpley, Bruce’s cousin.
The one-day visit to Washington DC would stick to an ambitious schedule that began with hundreds of friends, family, and other proud citizens sending off the group from the airport. Drummers and singers of Wisconsin’s Ho-Chunk Nation also participated in this gathering, citing their many years of traditional bonds with these hero warriors.
About 10 a.m., the group arrived at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Alexandria, Virginia to a cheering crowd of several hundred, including one of Col. Grossmann’s proud grandsons, Nicholas Grossmann. He had motorcycled to the event to share a rare opportunity to honor his grandfather. Soon, four charter buses departed with police escort for Arlington National Cemetery to witness the solemn Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The group then slowly threaded its way on a winding drive past thousands of white tombstones, exiting the National Cemetery and arriving at the Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial, where a group picture was taken and a picnic lunch was enjoyed.
As threatening clouds moved in, the convoy loaded and moved out past the Pentagon and crossed the Potomac River into the nation’s capital city. The capitol building gleamed as the rain held back. The Washington Monument stood eerily cloaked in an iron maiden of scaffolding; occasional movement of a lift suggested repair of the 5.8-magnitude August 2011 earthquake damage was being continued this weekend. The convoy soon arrived at the World War II Memorial.
No barricades were visible this day as the veterans and their guardians entered the large pavilion with its long pool, fountains, and wreath-topped columns. Another Honor Flight group from another state arrived, but most of the visitors to this large and sprawling memorial were average citizens and many foreign visitors who came for inspiration and reflection.
People of all ages happily greeted the veterans and shook their hands or gave them hugs. Pride was the order of the day. The group then moved out again to the Lincoln Memorial and, in small groups and pairs, worked its way over to the Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials. Other statues were visited in the vicinity honoring women, nurses, and other veterans of our wars.
With the rains still holding back and evening falling, the group returned to the airport, where they were again greeted by hundreds of well wishers. A swing band and dancers entertained them as they waited to depart aboard their charter flight and reflect on the events of the day. A banner high in the terminal commemorated this as US Airways’ 300th Honor Flight.
An hour before arriving back in Madison, the passenger cabin lights came on and a military-style mail call was conducted. Each veteran received numerous pieces of congratulatory mail to enjoy from their governor, senators, congressmen, families, friends, and school children. There was barely time to read them all before the flight landed about 9:15 p.m. in Madison.
The climax of this event-filled day was when the honored veterans returned to the passenger terminal. Each veteran was escorted by an active duty soldier and greeted personally by a general officer. Descending an escalator past two dozen flags and welcoming officials, the vets entered a gauntlet of over 5,000 dignitaries, family, friends, fellow veterans, and average Americans full of pride. A rolling thunder of applause greeted them as they were welcomed home with handshakes, hugs, and kisses. Two dozen members of Col. Grossmann’s church welcomed him with a large sign. A niece drove 750 miles from Ohio to be there. The entire terminal was pressed with proud citizens, and most would not be in their homes again until past midnight.
Honor Flight Alaska has two hubs, Honor Flight Golden Heart in Fairbanks and Last Frontier Honor Flight based in Big Lake. These private organizations are working hard to ensure veterans are honored in a way they may have otherwise missed during and after their time of service. For more information visit http://www.tlfhonorflight.org/ or call Ron Travis at 907-892-6097 or toll free at 877-560-8542.