As a Vietnam veteran, I was invited to travel to Washington DC, courtesy of Honor Flight Maine (https://www.honorflightmaine.org/). Honor Flight Maine is a non-profit organization created to honor America’s Veterans for their service. Approximately 150 veterans were flown to Washington, D.C. this past weekend, to tour, and reflect at our respective memorials.
This service by Honor Flight Maine is important for the healing of Veterans. In 1968-1970, for eleven months I walked point in the jungles of Vietnam. Here on the battlefield, we experienced casualties. There was no time to say goodbye, grieve the loss of comrades, or process the trauma. But rather in silence we simply trudged on. This “trend of silence” often continues after our tour of duty is completed, and we return to civilian life.
In Washington DC, we toured the Vietnam War memorial, the Korean War memorial, Pacific Memorial, Arlington Cemetery where we watched the changing of the guard by those who guard the tomb of the unknown soldier. We dined at Fort Mead in the officer’s mess, and visited Fort McHenry where the Star-Spangled banner was written by Francis Scott Key, the lyrics which came from the defense of Fort McHenry in 1814. As a Marine I was impressed with the enormous size of the statue of the Marines planting the flag at Iwo Jima.
Everywhere we went, we were greeted with honor by soldiers, and civilians clapping and shaking our hands stating “Welcome home soldier.” As you know, many veterans (such as myself) upon returning home were greeted with boos, sneers, and sarcastic remarks by protesters. Just as damaging was the loud silence of family, and society.
During one meal, a friend (RJ the DJ) whom I met on the trip, asked each of us to share what impacted us the most while visiting the memorials. There was not a dry eye as each Veteran emotionally shared freely the memories and impact they experienced at the memorials.
On the return flight home, we were surprised by a “Mail call.” During wartime, many of us didn’t receive much mail from our families and friends. Unbeknown to us, Honor Flight Maine guardians (we were each assigned one) secretly enlisted our family members and friends to write us a letter. During the flight, our names were called out and one by one, we received a packet of letters written by our friends and family members thanking us for our service and welcoming us home. Another powerful healing experience.
At the airport we were greeted by a color guard, bearers of the American flag, a drum core and those who play the bagpipes, and other organizations. They in turn led the march as we went from the hallway of the airport to our next location for the closing ceremony. On both sides we were greeted by hundreds of family members welcoming the veteran’s home.
Thank you, Honor Flight Maine, for bringing us Veterans together to experience three days of being honored, and appreciated for our service and sacrifice. I especially want to thank my best friend, and mini-golf buddy, Jon More, for being my guardian and roommate for three days. One cannot ask for a better friend than Jon.