Honor Flight Savannah
By CW2 Robert Streeper, 4th IBCT, 3rd Inf. Div., Community Relations
On May 16, 2014, I had the honor of being a guardian for two World War II, and one Korean War veteran on their trip to Washington D.C. with the Savannah Honor Flight. This organization raises money to bring veterans from World War II, Korean War, and other conflicts, who have serious medical conditions to Washington D.C., so they can see the monuments that our country has made in their honor.
I wanted to do this event because I enjoy helping out veterans and really enjoy their stories. When I found out about Honor Flight I was hoping to get picked to be a guardian so I could share this experience with them and I was lucky to be one of the few that were selected.
Other guardians and I met the veterans we'd be escorting on the trip that morning at the 165th Airlift Wing in Savannah. There was coffee and assorted breakfast for everyone to take in before the trip.
Maj. Gen. John Murray, Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Gilpin and "Rocky" were there to greet the veterans and say a few words. Before the buses were loaded there was a short ceremony where a letter was read from the wife of a veteran, Store Keeper 3rd Class Dan Thompson, who was scheduled to go on the trip, but passed away in January. This served as reminder that many of our World War II veterans are passing away without the chance to see the memorial erected in their honor.
The veterans were shocked as they headed out to the bus and they were greeted by a veteran's motorcycle club that had American flags lined up on both sides of the sidewalk leading up to the bus. Also, Soldiers from the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade and Airmen from the 165th Airlift Wing saluted the veterans as Murray and Gilpin gave them one last handshake at the bus doors, before we departed. The motorcycle club then escorted the bus until it reached I-95.
Once on the road the war stories started to come out as veterans begin talking to each other and the guardians. One Air Force veteran served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. One of my veterans told me how he served under Gen. Patton. I would sit there like a little kid in a candy store listening trying to take it all in. These veterans are our living military history.
Dinner was scheduled to be served at 7:30 p.m. after our arrival, but we arrived around 10:00 p.m. because of a problem with a tire. Since we were going to be late, the restaurant manager asked the staff if anyone could stay and help serve the veterans and the whole staff who was supposed to be off waited for us to arrive. The servers all had smiles and greeted the veterans thanking them for their service. That night I could not have been more proud that my fellow Americans would also sacrifice their time for the veterans.
When we left the hotel the next morning we were given a bus tour of Washington D.C. The veterans were taking in Washington D.C. because they were seeing it for the first time.
Our first stop was the World War II Memorial. Waiting for us to arrive was an admiral, two major generals, one Army one Air Force, along with military members from each branch. All the veterans were gathered up to honor them in a ceremony to include Store Keeper 3rd Class Dan Thompson. The military color guard marched out in front and a bugler played taps. The Honor Flight veterans and the active duty that showed to see them, all saluted when taps were being played and tears ran down the faces of some of the veterans. This was very emotional seeing these veterans remember their fallen comrades. After the ceremony was over, people started to form a line to shake their hands while other would just walk up to the veterans saying thank you.
Next we went to the Iwo Jima Memorial and to the Air Force Memorial and had a box lunch after. While eating our box lunches the veterans started telling stories of the rations they had while at war. Their stories made me really appreciate our chow halls while I was deployed.
Following lunch the tour headed to Arlington to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After the change was complete, a member of the Honor Guard thanked the veterans and talked about the history of the Honor Guard and the cemetery. Then Lt. Gen. James Huggins from the Pentagon greeted the veterans and thanked them for their service. He then met the veterans at John C. McKinney Memorial Stables where members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment explained the history of the stables and gave a tour.
Once Huggins said his goodbyes to the veterans it was on to Korean War, Vietnam, and Women at War memorials. While at the Korean War Memorial all the veterans from that war stood together for a picture. The veterans then walked to the Vietnam Wall Memorial. While we were there a Marine veteran found a name of a friend he served with. This was my third time seeing the wall but being there seeing this Marine find his friend's name and stand there pointing at it sent chills down my spine.
Our last stop in Washington D.C. was to the Navy Memorial. We had dinner next and after everyone received their food, all the veterans were talking about seeing the memorials. I was listening to a group talk about how surprised that there were generals waiting to see them. There was a lot of talking about how much they appreciated having a memorials in honor of them, their fellow patriots, and for the fallen. After dinner was finished it was time to head back on the bus for the drive back to Savannah.
This trip was amazing, not only for the veterans, but for me getting the chance to be a guardian to escort these veterans. I could listen to their stories of their experiences during the wars of their time all day long. There is another trip scheduled on September 5. For more information on Honor Flight Savannah, visit their website at http://www.honorflightsavannah.org.