On the evening of Oct. 24, right on schedule, US Airways charter flight 9091 carrying WWII veterans, their guardians, Honor Flight staff and a medical team gracefully touched down in Myrtle Beach after a perfectly organized and executed day in Washington, D.C.
In the early morning hours, 76 of America’s WWII veterans gathered at the general aviation terminal for the beginning of the fifth Honor Flight out of Myrtle Beach. There they were joined with guardians assisting them on the trip, collected their flight credentials, treated to hot biscuits from Bojangles’, coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts, and warmly greeted by Tom Keegan, a representative from U.S. Rep. Tim Scott’s office.
The cabin of the Airbus 320 was decorated by the flight crew, nose to tail, with red, white and blue decorations, what a sight! They were compassionate, patient and fun, knowing how special their cargo was. Every row was considered first class. Some of the veterans had not flown in many years; one in particular stood on the tarmac prior to boarding, scratching his head and said, “How does something that big get off the ground?”
After a cushion-soft landing at Ronald Reagan International Airport, the flight was greeted by a water arc from the Washington Metropolitan Fire and Rescue department followed by waves and salutes from the US Airways’ ground crew. Flags from all branches of the military formed a column as the plane came to a stop at the gate. Honor Flight ground volunteers in Washington were waiting to greet us inside the terminal, along with a band, balloons and throngs of clapping spectators. By the time we boarded the buses to leave the airport, most of the veterans sported cherry red-lipstick kisses from the ladies!
Our first stop was the WWII Memorial, dedicated to our veterans in 2004. We gathered at the South Carolina column and had a group photograph taken. Lunch and a tour of the city followed, punctuated by stops at the Navy, Air Force, Lincoln, Vietnam, Korean, Iwo Jima, and Women In Military Service for America Memorials, and finally a very solemn changing of the guards at Arlington National Cemetery.
The flight home was silky smooth and God had painted a spectacular sunset. Many of us were quietly storing our memories of the day, while others shared war stories or simply rested. The veterans were treated to “mail call” where hundreds of hand-written letters are distributed to the veterans by name. While they ate dinner and read their letters, the flight crew played music from their era over the cabin speakers. One of the last songs before landing was “I’ll Be Seeing You” and yes, there were some tears.
Nothing prepared us for the Welcome Home Ceremony, which has been refined and crafted over the past few years to reflect the incredible coordination of efforts to make it possible. Countless American flags flanked our pathway from the plane to the terminal, along with waving and cheering friends, family, school children and many, many patriotic and military groups too far to mention. There were many handshakes and many hugs, and yes, some more tears. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
I cannot finish this letter without acknowledging the incredible volunteers who made this flight and past flights possible. They are all ages, unheralded, unpaid, patriotic to the core, dedicated, devoted, and willing to help out with any task needed to make these flights possible. They are tireless in their efforts to locate these veterans, raise funds, and manage the milelong list of logistics to send these veterans to their memorial. When they successfully come home from a flight, they begin thinking of the next one. Special thanks also go to the various media who covered the flight and promote the Honor Flight program, including this newspaper. We are forever grateful.
If you would like to learn more about the Honor Flight program, please go to our website, www.honorflightmyrtlebeach.com or call 947-8212 to ask how you can support the program. No donation is too small and any opportunity to help is greatly appreciated. God bless our veterans from every war and God bless America.
The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.