A trip back in time through the eyes of 100 heroes who were there
Mon, 08 Sep 2014 14:29:43 GMT —
If you have never served in the Military, it is hard to understand the moment when the most basic of human instincts take over â?? survival of the fittest â?? when the heat of battle means your life or that of your friend could be taken in the blink of an eye. All in defense of the freedom for millions of Americanâ??s you will never even meet.
When you talk to a veteran who has been â??in theatre,â?? and they are willing to talk about it, you can hear in every breath, the terror, fear, and PRIDE that drove them to serve our country, and be ready to make that ultimate sacrifice. Although there isnâ??t a way to fully understand, spending the day with more than one hundred veterans of World War II and Korea will get you closer than you ever thought possible.
I recently had the opportunity to not only meet, and listen to these heroes, but be a part of something amazing, as these brave men and women made the journey to Washington, DC, and visit, many for the first time, to remember, honor, and pay respect to those fallen at the memorials built in their honor.
Over the last eight years, the South Carolina Honor Flight has made the day trip to the Nationâ??s capital, along with groups of veterans of The War to End All Wars, and the Forgotten War, twenty times, all funded by private citizens and guardians, who gladly play for the honor to escort these soldiers through history.
Before the fully loaded chartered jet left Columbia Metropolitan Airport, stories and memories were being relived between men and women who had never met, but all shared the same experienceâ?¦all of whom will never be strangers again.
Stories of couples married sixty years met in Korea, the coach that is known by many Gamecocks and Tigers was responsible for teaching survival skills to every soldier passing through Fort Jackson, and the man who became a POW after his plane was shot down, all began to recount their time over a half century ago serving America.
As we approached Washington, and the captain extended the flaps for final approach, excitement was felt throughout the plane, thinking about what the day would bring.
Our first stop, the World War II Memorial.
It was a combination of the anticipation of a child at Christmas, with that of the pride of having served the country and tears for those who didnâ??t come home, all rolled into single moment for each of these soldiers.
You could feel the bond of a group that may have never known each other, but all shared the same experience grow with every moment of walking through the memorial, the fountain, and of course, the South Carolina pillar erected to ensure that their service was remembered.
The comradery continued to grow, as we boarded the bus for a tour of the city, and history unfolded right in front of us. Laughter from these soldiers could be heard throughout the bus, as we passed the IRS, J. Edgar Hoover building, and other iconic areas of our Capitol lay fifty feet away.
At the Korean War Memorial, there were somber moments, as the boys in each of these men were relived at the sight of the statues representing them were viewed. â??Look at that one. He hears somethingâ?? said one, talking about a statue that peers away from the squad with a furrowed brow. Standing next to them, you can almost hear the sound of the memories exploding inside their heads and heart as they look, remember, and in a lot of cases, grieveâ?¦all with the pride of an American Soldier.
Next stopâ?¦Arlington National Cemetery. Before we made our way up to the Tomb of the Unknowns, we stopped by the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Mandy, the only female on this flight to have served in World War II made a B line for the database to ensure her listing was correct. As the typed in her name, last then first of course, a smile came across her face. Suddenly, there she was. Her name, rank, home town, and a picture of her 70 years younger staring her back in the face. â??I was quite popular,â?? she said with a winkâ?¦and I saw, even for a moment, that teenager that served our Country so many years ago smiling at me.
We got back on the bus, and began the escorted trip to the Tomb of the Unknowns. This hallowed place, that has not been unguarded since 1923, with only the sound of the jets taking off from Reagan Airport several miles away, and sharp, smart â??clickâ?? of the heels from the Old Guard sentry, as he takes the 21 steps across in front of the tomb, it is a place for respect, thought, and of course, honor.
At the Iwo Jima Memorial, we learned that were actually twelve, not six, brave men who ascended Mount Suribachi, on the tiny island, with bullets flying in every direction, with the mission of putting up Old Glory, which eventually become one of the most iconic photos in history. As it turns out, the famous picture captured the second time a team raised the flag.
After a stop at the United States Air Force Memorial, which might have blocked the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, had it been in place at the time, it was time to make the journey back home to Columbia.
As we taxied and began the flight, it was interesting to see all the â??youngerâ?? guardians slumped in their seats from a busy day of touring, walking, and hot Washington sun. The soldiers, however, many sixty years the guardiansâ?? seniors, were showing no sign of fatigue; still talking, remembering, and laughing about the day and their time serving our country.
The homecoming at Columbia Metro, much like that when we arrived in Washington, was nothing short of a heroes welcome, with hundreds of people, from ROTC and a military band, to fellow soldiers, family, and generations all there to thank these 100 hundred soldiers, who are all, in some way, responsible for our freedom.