When a reporter has a hard time putting into words the personal thoughts, emotions and experiences of Honor Flight, it sort of puts into perspective what this trip means to those of us lucky to have accompanied World War II veterans toWashington,D.C., to view their memorial.
Even now, two days after returning from the journey, I get a lump in my throat when I think about all of the wonderful men and women I’ve met on the trio of flights I was so fortunate to be a part of.
Before the tears completely take over and I can no longer see my keyboard, I want to express my sympathy to the family of Bud Meyers, of Windom. Bud was one of the World War II heroes I interviewed prior to this final flight, and he was so looking forward to the trip. He died last Wednesday morning, and the news cast a pall on my pre-flight preparations. I felt like I’d been sucker-punched.
I didn’t know Bud like his family or friends knew him, certainly. I spent an hour — maybe two — listening to his harrowing stories of war. He landed onIwo, delivered soldiers to shore for the invasion ofOkinawaand survived a virtual kamikaze attack on land armed only with a carbine rifle and a 20-shot clip.
After all of those stories, you know what he said to me?
“It was a very interesting part of my life.”
That quote alone says a lot about the men and women who sacrificed so much so future generations could live in the land of the free.Americatruly is the home of the brave.
On Monday, I spent much of my time talking to members of the Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota committee, asking for their final thoughts — their most cherished memories — about the four flights and the 435 World War II veterans with whom they shared this journey.
That story, along with several others, will be included in a special Honor Flight edition that prints with this Saturday’s Daily Globe.
As I ponder writing that special piece, I’d like to share with you my most cherished memory of this entire Honor Flight experience.
It began with a request from my publisher to attend a meeting of an Honor Flight committee that was forming. We traveled to Luverne on Dec. 15, 2009, to listen in on discussions about how we could raise money to take our World War II veterans toWashington,D.C., to view their memorial.
Joni and I left the meeting that night committed to publishing a feature story on a World War II veteran in our paper every week, starting on Dec. 24, and continuing until we had enough money raised for the trip.
Nineteen weeks — 19 World War II stories — later, we were in the air and bound for our nation’s capital city. I wrote all but one of the stories leading up to that first flight and had an amazing experience just visiting with veterans who are too humble to call themselves heroes. Between flights two, three and four, the Daily Globe published another 30 pre-flight feature stories on our World War II veterans. Two years, 49 feature stories and not a one of the stories we heard was the same.
It just goes to show that everyone truly does have a story to tell.
There is a sign I hung just above the doorway in my home that reads, “Home is where the story begins.”
When I bought it, I thought it was neat because I prefer to write from home, in the quiet solitude of my makeshift office.
Now, it has a different meaning — actually, a reminder — to always take the time to sit and listen to the stories of our greatest generation before they are lost forever.
All of the Honor Flight veterans will understand when I say this experience opened them up to actually talk about what they saw, what they did and how they endured the events of a world at war. I can’t recall how many times families of featured veterans came up to me after a story was in print and said, “I didn’t know that about dad,” or “He’s never shared that with me during all the years we’ve been married.”
Well, now is your chance to listen to those stories. There is no time like the present.
People have said I’m lucky to have been able to experience three journeys with Honor Flight. No one knows that more than me, and I can’t thank the Honor Flight committee enough for allowing me to be a part of such a wonderful project.
Most of all, I want to issue a thanks and a challenge to all of you. Thanks for your donations to Honor Flight, thanks for taking a Deep Freeze Dip or buying a button, thanks to the sponsors, the guardians, the medical staff and everyone else who helped in any way to make this dream come true for the 435 World War II veterans who traveled with us.
As for the challenge — please, please take the time to visit with these people. Ask them to share their stories with you — and be prepared to get lessons in geography and history — there’s nothing better than hearing stories from those who were there.
I will forever cherish the one-on-one, in-home interviews I conducted with these veterans. I can say, without a doubt, it was the highlight of my life.