June 1, 2019

June 1, 2019

Once again, it’s Memorial Day. Another holiday. A day off for most. How easy it is to think of this as just another day of the year. It comes. We barbecue and party. Some give thoughts to our fallen heroes. Others may pray for peace. Others could care less. And then the day is gone.


This year’s Memorial Day article will introduce the readers to a very special organization whose mission is to transport America’s Veterans to Washington, DC to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends. Honor Flight Network (HFN) is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. It transports our heroes to Washington, DC to visit and reflect at their Memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day. Obviously, time to express thanks to these brave men and women is running out.


As fate would have it, I have a first cousin (by marriage) who was one of the few remaining veterans of World War II. His name is Ted Lekas. Nearly 30 years have passed since  I wrote an article titled – AS I SEE IT: ON THE SEABEES that detailed Ted’s experiences in the Pacific during the war.  I continue to visit Ted (and my cousin Nora) every time I’m on the east coast of Florida. Unfortunately, Ted passed away last year at the age of 93. Low and behold, I found out that Ted had been earlier honored by the aforementioned HFN. Here is an edited version of Ted’s description of that truly exciting event.


“My long time friend and Westinghouse associate, Roger Ray, asked me if I would like to go on the Honor Flight to visit the World War II Monument. He would be my Guardian and put up the required funds. He would be with me for the entire trip, overseeing my needs and comfort. It was a dream that I thought would never come true and there it was. So after checking with my doctor, I was told to go ahead and enjoy the trip. Roger and I were both excited in anticipation of the trip.


At the Miami International Airport, the general public was thanking me for my service along the passage way to the plane. We were given breakfast and prepared to board the plane. I would guess about 50% or more of the Veterans (including me) were in Honor chairs (wheel chairs). We were wheeled through the plane ramp to the door of the plane by our Guardians. On the plane the Guardian sat next to the assigned Veteran – in my case, Roger. In my row on the plane was the oldest Veteran on the tour, 100 years old and in perfect health. On takeoff, firetrucks on either side of the lane, with flashing lights and water cannons, fired an arc of water over the airplane as a salute to the veterans.


The time passed quickly and we reached Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) Washington, DC in two and a half hours. We boarded deluxe tour buses and headed for the World War II memorial. Our four bus convoy had police car escorts front and rear with sirens and flashing red lights. Any car that cut in front of one of the buses was pulled over and probably issued a summons.


The WWII Memorial was a wonder sight. At one end, off in the distance, stood the Lincoln Memorial and at the other end stood the Washington Memorial. It was explained that the WWII Memorial is not only dedicated to the veterans but to the entire population of the United States of America for their contribution of tireless labor to produce the arms and equipment to support our fighting men.


There was so much to see as we toured. The bronze portrayals along the walls of the walkways of the Memorial of every day life in America was depicted as well as some historical events.


Then we chose to see the Korean War memorial. All this time Roger was doing all the navigating of my Honor chair. It was a long walk from the WWII memorial to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and then about 100 yards to the Korean Memorial. There were (19) life sized stainless steel figures (each covered with a tan substance) that appear to be on patrol in Korea in what could be enemy territory. You could read their facial expression of alertness, fear, and readiness in a hostile climate. There is great detail in every item down to the weapons they carried. There is a black polished granite wall along one side of the soldiers displayed that had etched faces and scenes into the surface. These were copied from actual unidentified photos of soldiers, marines, sailors and air men.


Next we boarded our buses and headed for the Women’s Memorial. It was explained to us that if we wanted to witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown we must make the stop at the Woman’s Memorial a brief rest stop. All agreed. In the building and walking to the rest room, there were a number of displays depicting all the services women performed during the U.S. military experiences. Overall, the Women’s Memorial seemed to occupy a large area, and deservedly so.


Back on the buses, we started on our way to Arlington Cemetery to witness the changing of the guard. The trip there was a sightseeing tour of various Washington buildings and Memorials. Among those included the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Pentagon, the African American Memorial (still under construction), the Air Force Memorial (not open at the time), the Lincoln Memorial, and the older section of the cemetery at the Regimental Building where the changing of the guard takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown.


There was an area for the Veterans and their Guardians who .were provided reserved front row advantage. I cannot begin to describe the ceremony and precision that took place but can say it was perfection to the last detail.


We boarded the busses for the trip back to the airport. During the flight we were served dinner, followed by a ‘Mail Call.’ Each person’s name was called and an 8” x 10” bulging envelope was given to each veteran. There must have been over 100 pieces of mail in the envelope from relatives, friends and unknown citizens wishing us well and thanking us for our military services in WWII.


On landing at Miami we were again saluted with the airport fire engines and the arch of water from their water cannons and flashing lights. We were home at last. Inside the airport we passed through security and passed the longest line of welcoming citizens, politicians, military personnel of every rank. Most surprising was the number of young children present. They stood in a double line which we passed through the center. The cheers and handshakes made us all proud to be respected in this manner by those who thanked us so openly. As we exited the building, the final salute was from a group of men and women playing the bagpipes. The emotions were high at times within each veteran. I’m sure we all had the remembrances of the men we left behind and how proud they would have been of our America and its citizens who cared.”


Closeout thoughts on Memorial Day follow. For me, I often get a feeling of elation when I hear the national anthem. I give thanks to being an American. Although our nation is experiencing hard times due to earlier incompetent and misguided leadership, it is important that we lovers of the American way of life not give up. George Washington, my man of the 18th century, facing unsurmountable odds, did not give up. Nor did the men and women who led the expansion out West in the 19th century. Nor did Churchill, my man of the 20th century. Bottom line: Nor will our nation; we will return to greatness.


God bless America and those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.


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