Mr. Bluejay Goes to Washington

Yesterday I wrote about Honor Flight and why they do what they do. If you haven’t read that post, please do so now. I’ll wait … … …

Ok, glad you’re back. Now that you know about Honor Flight, I’ll write more specifically about Tuesday’s trip.

My Veteran and I arrived at the Greenville-Spartanburg Jetport just before 07:00 in the morning. We were told to not arrive before 7, but coming from a good distance away, I wanted to have some slack in case one of the roads along the way got balled up or something, but we made good time. I dropped my Dad off at the the arrival point, where he was warmly greeted while I parked the car.

The guardians are responsible for looking after the Veterans. We’re assigned Veterans to take care of, but it’s also a team effort. After I collected our credentials and materials, I helped my Dad get ready and fetched coffee (there was plenty of coffee and donuts) for him and another Veteran and awaited the call to board our chartered US Airways 737.

Of course, we’re flying on a big jet into our nation’s capital, so the TSA was there, but they had everyone’s names in advance and cut us a lot of slack.

Snack bags were already on board when we got on. Rather healthy fare, I thought: yogurt, fruit, and muffin. Water was also available in copious quantities throughout the day. I tend to drink a good bit of water, and I never lacked.

We were using the north cargo ramp due to some construction in the main terminal, so after the water canon salute from the GSP fire department, we had a long ride to get to runway 4, but we made good time from there, and arrived at Washington National after a little over an hour in the air. Another water canon salute and off the airplane, where the Veterans were greeted by cheering crowds and the Washington Honor Flight volunteers.

I know the picture above looks like we had a splendid day for this, but Washington was all clouds and rain. Fortunately we came prepared for rain and there were boxes of ponchos for those who needed them.

This organization knows what’s required to get these Veterans around. There were always at least two guardians on hand whenever one was getting on or off the buses, and wheelchairs were available for every Veteran, whether they needed them or not. By the end of the day, with all the walking around, most of them did.

A police escort got us to the first stop. We had a police escort all day, and clearly they know how to move a motorcade through that city.

Like I said, the day was all on-and-off rain. The first stop, the one everyone wanted to be at, was the WWII Memorial.

I held my breath for just a moment when I saw the inscription listing the major battles of Europe. Then I saw Anzio, where my Dad first entered combat and the battle he talks the most about. He saw it too.

After a group photo, we loaded up for lunch while we motored over to the Lincoln Memorial and Korean War Memorial.

The weather pushed us into just drive-by tours of the Iwo Jima Memorial, and then we were over to the Women In Military Service For America Memorial. I mentioned in my other post that women were in the line of fire. One story my Dad tells is about the German’s big railroad guns that could lob a shell 11 miles, and they dropped a bunch of them on the Anzio beachhead and the hospital there. Many nurses lost their lives there, and many more were decorated for bravery.

Our last stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where we witnessed the changing of the guard. The ceremony is very precise and exacting. Since the guards can’t deviate from this, they obviously can’t acknowledge a group such as our Veterans in a conventional way, but to do so, they’ll just lightly scuff their shoe as they walk as a way of honoring someone or a group such as
our Veterans.

During this ceremony, this was about the quietest crowd I’d been in.

Before we left, my Dad spotted this:

My Dad served in the Third Infantry Division.

From there we did a drive-by of the Air Force Monument, and then back to the airport.

By now there were very few Veterans who weren’t on wheels, and it takes a really long time to load a 737 when half the passengers “need assistance”. But we had a swing band playing some military theme songs and some swing-era favorites to help us pass the time.

Between the time needed to get loaded up and a weather delay, we were about an hour late getting back to GSP. Along the way we had some dinner and the Veterans received some souvenirs. They also received letters from some local politicians, and most special, letters from school kids. My Dad still hasn’t read through all the ones he received.

Even with the delay and the rain that developed over the upstate, we had a rousing welcome when we arrived back at GSP. As each Veteran left the boarding ramp their name was announced and the crowd cheered. Rows of military personnel saluted them as they made their way back through the terminal building and to the departure area.

While there my Dad struck up a conversation with one of the women Veterans. He always asks the question, “have you ever heard of Anzio?”, and almost no one has. This time he was surprised when she answered “Oh Yes!”. Turns out she was a nurse on Anzio. I need to try and get them together.

I brought the car around and a police officer escorted my Dad to the car. I called out “That’s him officer!”. She asked if she should arrest him, but I said she could release him into my custody.

I took one wrong turn getting back to I-85, but that didn’t cost but a couple minutes, and we eventually arrived back home around 23:15. Tired, but happy. It took both of us a while to wind down and get to sleep.

I’m sure I missed a thousand things in this brief account, and had I been touring myself I’d have taken a a lot more pictures, but that wasn’t my purpose.

Here’s links to some more coverage from WYFF4 TV and WSPA TV.