It was a very long day but it made a lot of memories for 81 veterans from the Ozarks who took the Aug. 23 daylong flight with Honor Flight of the Ozarks to Washington DC to see their military memorials.
By 3:30 am on flight day the veterans, the guardians and the medical and support team met in the boardroom at the Springfield-Branson National Airport and were greeted with donuts and hot coffee — just a sample of long-ago military memories for these veterans.
The Sun Country Airlines 737 arrived on time from its home base in Minneapolis at 5:00 am and the veterans and guardians walked to the gate through a saber arch provided by the Willard Junior ROTC Saber Guard. Flight group was welcomed to Washington by people from the Honor Flight Network national office waving flags and cheering.
There were four buses parked outside Reagan National Airport to begin the day’s tour. The best way to get around Washington is with a police escort provided by the Arlington, Virginia police department. Each of the buses has Honor Flight of the Ozarks support staff plus a doctor and nurse medical staff, all volunteers from the Ozarks. Each bus has a knowledgeable tour guide.
More: Finally, a hero’s welcome: Vietnam vets celebrated at Honor Flight of the Ozarks return
WWII, Korean and Vietnam memorials
The first stop was the World War II Memorial around the large fountain for a group picture. They were met by a bagpiper who played all of the service themes including the Coast Guard. There were no World War II veterans on this flight as most of this group served in Korea and Vietnam. Honor Flight of the Ozarks takes veterans who received an honorable discharge and served in World War II, Korea, the Vietnam era and the Gulf War.
After time at the World War II Memorial, the four buses headed to the 7½-acre Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on the Tidal Basin for box lunches. There was time to wander along the shoreline and in the shade of the trees and learn about the longest -serving president of the United States.
The longest stop on the tour was at the Lincoln Memorial, celebrating its 100th year since it was built on the Mall. To the south of the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial is the Korean War Veterans Memorial. has a circular set of granite plaques containing the names of 36,634 American and 7,174 Korean Augmentation service men and women who lost their lives during the conflict. Etched in the granite wall leading to the plaques are faces and scenes of the war. Standing guards are 7 -foot-tall statues depicting soldiers in battle dress. This new addition to the Korean War memorial was dedicated last month.
On the north side of the Reflecting Pool is the Vietnam Memorial Wall, a place of interest to most of the veterans on this Honor Flight. The wall has the names of 58,220 Americans who lost their lives in that war. A popular activity at the Vietnam Wall is making a rubbing of the name of a friend, relative or comrade. There is an app available to assist in locating a name. Go to Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Mobile Tour and download their app. Several veterans on the trip used this app to Locate a name on the wall and make a rubbing.
The next stop on the tour was the Air Force Memorial on a hill overlooking the Pentagon. The memorial is made of three stainless steel spires, with the tallest at 270-feet. The spires look like the contrails of three fighter jets soaring into the sky The Air Force Memorial is located next to Arlington National Cemetery. At each stop guardians and Honor Flight of the Ozarks unload the wheelchairs for veterans who need them. These wheelchairs are taken on the flight, loaded into the buses and brought back to Springfield.
Silence reigns at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The next stop on the Honor Flight Tour was the most solemn: The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The buses unloaded at the amphitheater where the veterans, guardians and support team took the sidewalk around to the Tomb site. During the summer the guard is changed every half hour. During fall, winter and spring the changing takes place every hour. Strict silence is observed during this ceremony.
The Springfield group was placed on the front row at the end of the sentinel’s path. On the half hour, a sergeant appeared with the new sentinel while the retiring sentinel continues his walk. He steps 21 paces in front of the Tomb, turns, pauses and waits 21 seconds before repeating his steps. The 21 paces and seconds signify a 21-gun salute, which is the highest honor paid in the military.
When the new sentinel arrives, they go through the manual of arms, and then the new sentinel continues the ritual. They do this 24 hours a day, every day of the year, in all kinds of weather. A few years ago there was a hurricane that hit Washington and the guards were offered the opportunity to take a break because of the weather.
The veterans with Honor Flight of the Ozarks were seated and standing as close as possible to see this historic event. Upon returning to the bus one veteran remarked, “This was worth the trip.”
The final stop was located near Arlington National Cemetery, the US Marine Corps Memorial with the famous 78-foot tall bronze statue of the famous Associated Press photograph of six soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima at the close of World War II. little time to walk around this huge bronze statue, and get back to the buses to travel with the police escort back to Reagan National Airport.
Welcome home and future invitations
Dinner was served at the airport, then everyone got back on the plane for the trip back to Springfield. But the day wasn’t over. There were some surprises on the flight. The biggest surprise was “Welcome Home” just after 10:30 pm with hundreds of family and friends of these veterans holding posters, waiving flags while the Shrine Band played the themes of the branches of the military. It is a welcome home that many veterans, especially those who served during Vietnam, never received.
A guardian on this trip, Lynette Rhodes, sent an email to the Honor Flight office and said, “What an absolutely incredible and humbling day yesterday! Thank you so much for all you do! I would love to get on the list to serve as a Guardian again.”
The next Honor Flight is Oct. 23, 2022. The veterans take the trip for free, while guardians pay $500 each. The remainder of the costs of this trip, $152,000 plus a $10,000 fuel surcharge, is paid for by Honor Flight of the Ozarks The next one is the Oct. 8 Gala. For applications to go on the trip, to volunteer, or get tickets to the Gala visit HonorFlightoftheOzarks.org.