Recently on a Saturday, I was privileged and honored to be included in a group of veterans on the trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials.
This is not paid for by any governmental agency and any necessary cost are dependent on donations and sponsorship.
I say privileged and honored, since while I was in the Navy during the years that the U.S. considered the Korean “Conflict” (War!), I did not (thankfully) actually go to Korea, like so many many others.
There were 88 veterans (two from WWII, 66 from Vietnam and the remainder Korean; one woman from WWII); 15 were in wheelchairs. No cost whatsoever to the veterans. Each veteran had a “guardian” who had to pay his or her way. One guardian was a high school senior who missed her prom to go on the trip.
At the Dayton airport by 3:30 a.m., fed a light breakfast, left at 7 a.m. for a 57-minute flight to Reagan. There was a crowd of “welcomers” at the airport — many military personnel. Boarded three tour buses with police escort. If you want an exhilarating bus ride: police escort front and rear, going down wrong lanes of traffic (remember, in D.C.) and crossing intersections against the light … well! Bus driver of bus No. 1 said this was is 65th trip for Honor Flight, started in 2008.
First stop: Changing of the Guard: Always inspiring and humbling.
There is no unknown person in the Vietnam tomb as all of the dead have been identified by DNA and so forth. The soldier who places the wreath has no rank so as to not outrank the unknown. His rifle is always between the crowd and the tomb. Summer time, they change guards every 30 minutes; winter time every hour.
Each movement is on a 21-second delay (21-gun salute).
Second stop: Marine Memorial — official title — but commonly called the Iwo Jima memorial. One veteran within the Honor Flight Board, Larry Blackmore, takes pictures of veterans who are deceased or who cannot go on trip for incapacity reason, places it in front of the veterans’ proper memorial and photographs it, and provides the veteran or veterans’ family with the photograph.
Third stop: Air Force memorial, overlooking the pentagon, three large spires (over 200 feet high) going skyward in large arcs, representing contrails of starburst for missing man formation. Picnic lunch was furnished, group pictures taken.
Fourth stop: Korean and Vietnam memorials. Vietnam was very inspiring and solemn. Still adding names to the wall; if veteran was injured in Vietnam, and dies from those injuries, a name is added to wall. That Saturday, they were adding 10 more names. The names are listed in chronological order as to the date of the casualty. Many people doing tracings.
Located between the Vietnam and Korean monuments is a monument to the nurses (on the battlefield and aid stations and hospitals) serving in both wars.
Korean Monument: Again very inspiring and somewhat eerie (even in the daytime; I understand this increases at night with the lighting) There are 19 soldiers representing all the branches of the services, bigger-than-life size (seven feet tall). Faces are actual faces of those who were in Korea; these 19 reflect from the polished marble wall, making 38 (for the 38th parallel). Wall also contains “news photos” that were lasered into the marble.
Fifth Stop: WWII monument; very large. Lots of water and fountains. Columns representing all the states and territories of the U.S.A. Purposely designed for the water to make noise to keep out the noise of the city. Located so you can see Lincoln and Washington memorials. Has a wall of stars reflecting into a pool. One star represents 100 dead from WWII (total number of U.S. casualties of WWII over 400,000; the only war to have more was the Civil War). Many visitors that day, many school children. Everyone behaving, quiet, and peaceful.
We did do a drive by the Navy Memorial, not really wheelchair-friendly. Interesting feature: large pool of water, contains water from all seven seas.
Next stop: Evening “chow” at Great American Buffet.
Next stop: Reagan International airport for flight home. Many employees provided entertainment, singing and music. Boarded plane around 9 p.m. for flight back to Dayton. On flight back, everyone received “mail” from home. As those who served in WWII and Korea know, mail was a welcome thing since it was usually long in getting to you, so the “mail call” on the plane represented the “late mail” — letters from friends and neighbors, military personnel from Wright-Patt and schoolchildren. One letter in my mail packet from a schoolchild indicated that they had some kind of contest to raise money to help pay for the t-shirts that every veteran received. It did not say name of school; wish it had so they could be thanked.
Landed at Dayton into LARGE (did not know the Dayton Airport could hold so many people, all ages) crowd of well-wishers, many military personnel — what a welcome!
Thanks to Honor Flight and to all those who came to see us off and who participated in flight and at D.C., and welcomed us home.
James Roger O’Donnell is a veteran and a Covington attorney.