A couple of months ago, a volunteer with the Quad City Honor Flight called to ask if I was available and interested in being a Guardian for the April 25 flight. I was on the waiting list and it didn't take long for this flag-flying 1960s Army vet to answer, "I'm in!"|
The information I needed arrived indicating I would be escorting Robert. I called Robert, who lives in Rock Falls and told me he was a 1952-55 U.S. Marine Corps Korean veteran.
At orientation, I met Robert, who was very excited about the upcoming trip. It would be his first time in our nation's capitol. It didn't take long to get a secure feeling that the QC Honor flight was well organized. This would be the 22nd QC Flight, starting in 2008.
The 163 of us going on the trip broke up into three groups who would be bussed around D.C. The vets each received bright yellow T-shirts and wind breakers and guardians received blue Ts and wind breakers for easy identification.
Sendoff at Q-C International Airport was super. Many area folks, family members, volunteers and Patriot Guard Riders lined our departure concourse creating a happy, warm and "you're special" feeling for all.
There was way too much excitement and anticipation on the charter aircraft for anyone to snooze during the hour and a half flight to Dulles Inetrnational Airport. And then, what a welcome.
There were scores of happy folks — youngsters with signs, moms and dads, men in suits and lots of volunteers wearing bright lime green T-shirts, "Honor Flight Ground Crew," guiding and escorting us every step of the way to waiting buses.
On the bus, I looked out against a clear blue sky and saw two huge Old Glory U.S. flags waving in the breeze. One couldn't help but think and know: what a great country we are blessed to be part of.
Our first stop was the Air and Space Museum, where we were treated to small group tours of WWII, Korean and Vietnam era aircraft and see the retired space shuttle, Discovery.
We were one of the first vet/guardian duos getting off the first bus arriving at the WWII memorial when I saw a somewhat familiar face welcoming us. "Aren't you Cong. Dave Lousback from Iowa?" I asked.
"Yes, I am," he responded shaking hands.
"This is really nice of you to be here for us," I said. "But I can't vote for you, I live in Illinois."
"That's OK," he said chuckling, "But you can vote for her," he said pointing.
And there was newly elected Cong. Cheri Bustos, of East Moline, with an even bigger smile, greeting us. Yes, I realize it's their "job" to welcome as many as they can to D.C., but it's still a classy thing to do considering all the demands on their time.
Next we bused past the Pentagon where one could easily see the lighter-colored stone in the large section of the building repaired after the 9-11 attack. We toured the Air Force Memorial that sits above much of D.C., offering wonderful panoramic views.
After touring the Women's Military Memorial, our buses were escorted through Arlington National Cemetery to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers where we solemnly observed the changing of the guard — way cool.
We then circled around the Iwo Jima Memorial on our way to the final stop: Korean and Vietnam Wars and Lincoln Memorial. That was special for both Robert and me. Robert saw first-hand the Korean War Memorial after serving there 60 years ago. I located and photographed the name of my wife Cindy's uncle and the name of one of seven high school classmates who perished in Vietnam.
Honor Guard Ground Crew volunteers directed us from buses to departure gate at Dulles. And even though many were very tired — our vets ranged from ages 77 to 97 — there was little sleep on the flight home. They were still pumped.
At the QCIA, it was wheelchairs first, then walkers following as we moved from the gate to the "public" area of the airport.
Wait. What's that sound? A bagpipe? Playing the Marine Corps song? Holy cow! People clapping. Hundreds of clapping and yelling people filling the concourse! What a welcome home.
Family members, lots of military, youngsters, Patriot Guard Riders, woo-hoo — what a reception. If the 90 vets had any doubt there were special, no more.
Mike Haney, a QC Honor Flight board member who saw us off and welcomed us home, said it succinctly: "When you see the faces and smiles of the veterans and guardians coming home, that's all one needs to see."
For QC Honor flight information, go to www.honorflightqc.org. World Outdoors writer Bob Groene can be reached at email@example.com
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