At 8:15 this morning were you walking and prompted to look up at the azure Nevada sky to see a “Nevada” South West Airlines jet gaining altitude above you and slowly banking eastward? SWA flight 1826 was carrying 35 Honor Flight Nevada Vets and 20 guardians to BWI, Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport,.
What is Honor Flight Nevada? If you go to http://www.honorflightnv.org/ you will read the quote, “100% of donations go towards flying our Veterans on Honor Flight Nevada missions.” Every male/female vet on this morning’s flight is a guest of Honor Flight Nevada. All their expenses; round trip flight, hotel for two nights, meals and ground transportation are paid by Honor Flight Nevada. Some surprises have been planned for their 54 hours of memories.
Did you ask yourself, “Is Ken a vet?” No, I volunteered to be an Honor Flight Guardian. Each Guardian pays for all their expenses, $1,000. A vet and I will share the same hotel room. I will be his “wing man,” pushing his wheelchair, or whatever is necessary for him to have the experience of a lifetime! I’m on his SIX! (If you never heard the previous expression, ask me to explain when you see me in Carson City).
Honor Flight Nevada has planned to give the vets at BWI Airport the same greeting a colonel would receive, fire trucks spraying water in the air. When we deplane, young and old volunteers will greet the vets, shaking their hands, giving hugs and cheering. Friday evening, the vets and Guardians will get settled in their rooms to get a good night’s sleep for a busy Saturday.
Saturday, wake-up is at 05:30 hours. The vets had the best training rising early in boot camp. We’ll visit the World War II Memorial. This is a great place to take a picture with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.
The Vietnam Wall Memorial is always a touching moment looking at the mementos and notes left by people who are loved ones of the 58,315 names on the wall. We’ll see one or more persons doing a “rubbing” of a loved one’s name from the wall.
Close to the Vietnam Wall is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, a statue of three women representing the 7,500 women (almost 6,000 nurses) who served in Nam including nine women who lost their lives.
The Korean War Veterans’ Memorial is within easy wheel chair distance to the previous two memorials. The memorial captures a moment in time for those who served in Korea.
Back to the bus, we will cross the Potomac River to visit the Air Force Memorial, the Marine Corps Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery to witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Each guard spends four hours ironing his uniform, shining his shoes and polishing all his brass! And you thought it took women a long time to get dressed! A couple of our mobile vets will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Next, we will return to the hotel to enjoy our dinner meal. Can you keep a secret? Good! While stationed in some distant land, every service person’s only connection with home was mail call. Mail call will be a surprise for the vets receiving letters written by relatives, friends, neighbors and elementary school students. Mail call may cause the vets’ eyes to leak.
Sunday, wake-up is 04:30 hours and breakfast is at 05:00 hours. We depart for BWI at 05:45 hours to return to Reno. At Reno/Tahoe Airport the vets will be welcomed by Bagpipes and hundreds of Nevadans of all ages cheering. For the Vietnam vets, it will be the “welcome home” they should have received 40-plus years ago!
Every day is a great day to thank a vet!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.