“Ladies and Gentleman,” the airport worker shouted, “May I have your attention, we have heroes in our midst!”
Those were the words welcoming Honor Flight recipients Arlow Freestone and Gerold (Jack) Young and 12 others to the Baltimore Washington International Airport in September.
Following that announcement, spontaneous and unbidden, people began clapping, coming up and shaking hands and expressing thanks to these veterans of World War II.
This was the first taste and only the beginning of the gratitude our local heroes received and what Honor Flight is all about.
Honor Flight is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing veterans with honor and closure” (honorflight.com)
With flight networks across the United States, the dream of World War II veterans of visiting the monument erected in their honor is finally becoming a reality. “We fly veterans to Washington D.C. to visit monuments built to honor their service to the nation.” (utahhonorflight.com)
Participation in Honor Flight is offered to all veterans of World War II. The applicants or in the case of Corporal Arlow Freestone, who served from January 1942 to November 1945, his son, Blen, submitted the request to participate on behalf of his father. The request was granted and Blen accompanied Arlow on Honor Flight as Arlow’s required guardian.
The four day adventure began with our heroes and their guardians meeting up with others in St. George to board a bus bound for Las Vegas, NV. The following day the group spent the day in transit, finally arriving at Baltimore Washington International Airport where they received a heroes welcome from fellow travelers.
The following day, according to Arlow, was one the highlights of his life. Wearing their identifying t-shirts, hats and name tags our heroes visited the Mall where they were privileged to see the World War II Memorial and experience the Color Guard, wreath ceremony, Taps and participate in a group photo.
“We were encouraged to bring a camera and tissues,” Blen said of these experiences, “and they were right.”
The Vietnam Memorial, the Korean Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial were next. “The Korean Memorial was my favorite,” said Arlow with his voice choking up and tears in his eyes. “Looking at the faces on the statues, I could feel what they were feeling.”
After lunch, the group visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Women’s Memorial. “We saw the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” Arlow said, his focus on the memory. “I didn’t realize we were special until we were all together at the memorials. We were really a part of something big, we had done something great.”
That evening the heroes were honored at a banquet where they were each presented with a plaque describing their service and given a accurate replica of the Victory Medal designed and minted to be given to all those who served in the War, but only a fraction actually received.
The following day included visits to the Marine Memorial (Iwo Jima), and the Air Force Memorial before the long flight back to Las Vegas. When they landed in Las Vegas, a crowd with signs was there to greet them with similar expressions of welcome and gratitude which they had received throughout their trip.
“Visiting the memorials was cool but what made the trip was the receptions we received at the airports,” Blen said. “It blew our minds, the people were great and they actually knew about Honor Flight.”
At the final dinner of the trip in St. George, each of the heroes were honored and given a book of the memorials they had visited, along with a folded United States flag in appreciation of their selfless service during the war.
“This was a special generation,” said Blen, reminiscing on the events and referring to those who served in World War II. “They did what they needed to do, what was expected of them and then they returned to obscurity. They saved the world and yet they didn’t expect anything. They just returned and got back to their lives.”
Arlow summed it up the best when he said of his experience with Honor Flight, “It was out of this world.”
Honor Flight was created to honor the World War II veterans, who are currently dying at a rate of 640 per day.
“So many of these heroes are vanishing without ever being thanked by the people they served,” Blen said. “So many veterans are unaware of this program and we need to get the word about Honor Flight out.”
Note: This story was personal to me as my father recently passed away. He served in the Navy during World War II and though he was buried with full military honors, I wish he and I had known about Honor Flight. I know it would have meant the world to him to have participated and it would have meant the world to me to be my father’s guardian on Honor Flight.