It has been my honor and privilege to volunteer as a greeter for two Honor Flights, each of which originated in Chicago and landed at Dulles Airport outside Washington, DC. It was thrilling. A dear friend, Bob Skiffington, and I went together on each occasion and were deeply moved at getting to greet and speak with the arriving veterans for a few moments before they boarded their buses to visit the memorials in DC. The flights brought in vets from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. An extra treat was getting to visit with my son, Thatcher, who was also there as a representative of the Fairfax County Police Department. Thatcher is a “sworn” Auxiliary Police Officer. There was a fabulous band which played the Star Spangled Banner and a nice collection of other patriotic songs and marches. The following is a neat account of the event by Bob Russell. The article appeared first at: bobrussell.org as A Thrilling Honor Flight and the One That Is to Come. RMF
The Thrilling Honor Flight and the One That Is to Come
by Bob Russell
Two weeks ago, my friend Andy Potts invited me to accompany him on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. The Honor Flights were originated in 2005 to express appreciation to World War II veterans for their sacrificial service to our country. Organizers have recently expanded their mission to include those who served in Korea and Vietnam. Andy, a Korean War veteran, asked me to accompany him since every vet on the trip is required to have a guardian.
When we arrived at Louisville’s Standiford Field at 6:00 a.m., there were dozens of volunteers mingling with the veterans, answering their questions, and thanking them for their service. One young woman was dressed like “Rosie the Riveter,” the iconic poster girl representing women in the workplace during World War II. A trio of women dressed as World War II WACs (Women’s Army Corps), complete with 1940’s hats, hairdos, and stockings, circulated among the men, many of whom were over 90 years of age and in wheelchairs.
I was impressed that Heather French Henry, former Miss Kentucky, and Miss America, had volunteered to be a guardian. Heather’s father was a disabled vet, so that issue is close to her heart. I learned this was her tenth trip. She spends the entire day accompanying a member of the armed forces who has no guardian. I remarked to Andy, “Wouldn’t it be something to come to the airport not knowing who your guardian would be, only to be paired with a former Miss America?” Andy quipped, “Yeah! If I had known about that, I would never have invited you!”
The inside of our plane was decorated with American flags. Patriotic music was playing over the intercom. Flight Attendants and hosts repeatedly paid tribute to those who had served in the military, making a concerted effort to help them feel special. When we arrived at Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C., we were welcomed by a men’s barbershop ensemble singing Patriotic Songs, while a tall volunteer paraded around in a yellow Zoot Suit — an outfit that was unique to the 1940s.
We were ushered into luxury buses, and with a police escort, we moved quickly through morning traffic to the World War II Memorial. I couldn’t help but think of the contrast from fifty years ago when the military was despised by many within our country. Now, these veterans were being treated like celebrities, and they deserved it.
After visiting the World War II Memorial, most of the men sat for a moment to rest, and the women’s trio sang a few songs that were popular in the ’40s to entertain them. One veteran in a wheelchair requested an old love song that must have been his departed wife’s favorite. Because when one of the girls sang the number, tears streamed down his weathered cheeks. He was nearly sobbing with heart-warming memories. When she was finished the young singer bent down and kissed the old warhorse on the cheek. I welled up and wept too.
We visited the Korean, Vietnam, and Air Force Memorials. We stood reverently at the tomb of the unknown soldier and watched the stately changing of the guard, which was precise and magnificent. Along the way, the veterans were fed well and treated like the heroes they are.
It was nearly 10:00 p.m. when we arrived back in Louisville. Everyone was exhausted, but spirits were high because it had been a wonderful day. Little did we know that the best was yet to be. When we ambled passed the security gate, we were stunned to encounter more than 2,000 people jammed into the airport concourse to welcome these heroes home. People cheered, clapped, and called out, “Thanks for your service!” Little children held signs expressing thanks. Ex-servicemen saluted. Adults of all ages were beaming with smiles and clapping, sometimes calling out names. As the old vets shuffled or wheeled through the sea of well-wishers, my friend Andy got teary-eyed, and I had goosebumps on my arms.
Several people in the crowd recognized me and called out my name even though I was just a guardian and not the one being honored. People reached out, shook our hands, and patted us on the shoulder while shouting, “Welcome home!” “Thanks for your service!” It was thrilling beyond words.
And I thought about heaven. One day, “When this life is ‘oer, I’ll fly away” to my heavenly home. We usually think of Judgment Day as a fearful event, but Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matt. 16:27).
Max Lucado wrote a book titled The Applause of Heaven. Imagine what it will be like to come to the end of this world’s journey and be welcomed into heaven by “the great cloud of witnesses.” After our Savior, Jesus, greets us, and we bow at His feet in gratitude, how thrilling will it be to see the beaming faces of family and friends who have gone before us and are eager to welcome us home! Maybe some people we’ve never even met will thank us for our service. We used to sing a hymn, “Friends will be there I have loved long ago, and joy like a river around me will flow. Yet, just a smile from my Savior, I know, Oh that will be glory for me.”
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).