DFW Honor Flight

Secure mobility

 

We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they walk by. — Will Rogers

 

How do you honor the generation who protected the world's freedom? How do you thank those that are accustomed to receiving none? It is hard to imagine anything that you could possibly say or do that would adequately express the gratitude our nation feels towards the men and women who served during the 1940s and 50s. This is a generation who did not think twice about making the ultimate sacrifice to protect people they did not even know. It is no wonder they are known as "The Greatest Generation". 

While saying thank you may seem an impossible task, it is something that all future generations should attempt. That is the goal of DFW Honor Flight. This non-profit organization was started by a group of independent pilots who, in an effort to thank World War II vets and honor the sacrifices they made, made it their mission to make sure these veterans would have an opportunity to visit the nation's capitol and the memorials built there. The pilots would volunteer their time and their craft to personally bring veterans and their families to visit sites that would have otherwise been impossible. From that grew a community dedicated to getting as many veterans as possible to Washington, D.C. The DFW chapter is one of many across the nation who work to thank veterans from WWII, and now the Korean War, by hosting what one vet this weekend called "the trip of a lifetime."

June 3rd and 4th was the 30th Honor Flight for the DFW group. This group generally takes four trips each year, two in the late spring and two in early fall. Thursby Software Systems has been a sponsor for the past 3 years, sponsoring 120 vets to date. Many of the veterans on these trips will travel with a member of their family. In instances where someone from the family is not able to join a "Guardian" is assigned to them. This helps to ensure that each vet receives the individualized thanks and attention they deserve. When extra guardians are needed Thursby Software has been more than happy to step in and fill the spot. This past weekend I was lucky enough to make the trip.

 

The Korean War Memorial

 

There are several meetings and a whole lot of emails sent before hand to make sure we all know exactly what to expect and what to do to make the trip memorable and successful. The day of the event, everyone meets in a special meeting room at the airport to ensure all bags are tagged, everyone has their name badges, and we've all had a bite to eat before the long day ahead. Dallas Love Field does a really wonderful job of doing everything in their power to help things go smoothly. A special security line was set up for our group, and when we got through security and made it upstairs to the gate area, a long line of people was waiting to show their thanks and appreciation to these heroic veterans.

This walk, through a crowd of strangers willing to pause, applaud, and shake hands with a quick "thank you for your service", is the first time most of these veterans begin to realize how truly special this trip will be. Any anxiety felt over the travel schedule quickly faded away as excitement, gratitude, and a flood of memories took its place. From here on out the trip was filled with smiles and fun. Southwest Airlines allowed all of the veterans to board first so that everyone was able to sit as a group in the rear of the plane and enjoy the flight together. When we arrived in DC another group of strangers, along with some veteran groups who make it a point to greet these Honor Flights on arrival, stood there to cheer and applaud from the time we left the plane until the moment we stepped out of the airport. Smiles and tears are contagious in these moments. 

 

Happy Travelers

 

In the first day we were able to visit the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Vietnam War Memorial. At the hotel yet another group was in the lobby to shake hands and thank the veterans for their time of service. We later learned that this was not a planned event. A woman staying at the hotel had just laid her husband, a WWII veteran, to rest in Arlington Cemetery. When she heard we would also be there she made it a point for her and her family to be there to greet us and say thank you. I'm still in awe at how that worked out and hope that it provided her with some measure of comfort. 

 

A group of Korean War Veterans from Honor Flight 30

 

A small banquet was held that night to recognize each veteran personally and present them with a challenge coin to commemorate the trip. This long standing tradition within the military may not seem like much to a civilian. To those who served it was a reminder of the larger community they will forever by connected to and a fitting tribute to their service. By the end of the night everyone was happy but very tired. 

After breakfast the next morning our first stop was Arlington National Cemetery. Everyone laid a Texas coin on the tomb of Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of WWII and a Texas native, and then watched the changing of the guard. For a few this was also a time to visit friends and family and pay their respects according to the customs of their division. Once again, these men were showered with respect and appreciation through everything from the best seats in the house to a special meeting with one of the tomb guards. 

 

Asking questions of a guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

After visiting the Marine and Air Force memorials  the members of the Honor Flight were given a truly special treat. We made a short trip over to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and listened to The Airmen of Note, the premier jazz ensemble of the United State Air Force. While the band played hits from their time in service the men could not help but tap their feet, bob their heads, and don a big huge smile. Many of the men also took this opportunity to dance with some of the female volunteers. While the Airmen of Note played wonderfully, waltzing and spinning around the floor with these men as they wore some of the biggest smiles I had seen all weekend was the real highlight of the day.

 

These men have some moves!

 

The men all thought the day was over now and that all they had left was a ride home, but two of the best surprises were yet to come. The first was a Mail Call on the flight home. When these veterans deployed they were usually away from everyone and everything they had ever known for two years at a time, so mail call during deployment was a time of great joy in the camps. The Honor Flight did their best to recreate this moment by calling out each individuals name and area of service and then surprising them with a packet of mail from family, friends, and strangers from all over Texas who wanted to thank them for their service. These letters are something that the veterans and their families treasure forever. Stories were shared throughout the weekend, but this was a moment that especially brought back a flood of good memories and happy stories. 

 

One of the happiest moments of the trip

 

The final surprise of the trip was a welcome home party at Love Field. When I heard one veteran describe it to a family member later he said, "there were hundreds of people there clapping and cheering and telling us thanks, it was really something. I will never forget that moment." I asked one of the Korean War vets later what it was like when he got home from the war. Had there been any welcome home parties or banners? His answer was a simple no. The fact that this was probably true for most of the men there has stuck with me. While it has often been called the forgotten war, those men and women deserve recognition for a job well done and much appreciated. Honor Flight is the opportunity to do now what should have been done years ago.

There has been a big trend lately in "finding your tribe". It centers around the idea of finding a group of people whose values, experiences, and outlook on life mirror your own. Without a doubt our veterans are a large fraternity of brothers who share a bond that can never be broken. Within that collective are many smaller tribes of men and women who share the common experience of a set time of conflict. To be reunited with this tribe is something that few are able to experience again. The peace and joy this reunion brought to the men on Honor Flight 30 was palpable and is something they will carry with them the rest of their lives. 

We here at Thursby Software are proud to be able to contribute to such a worthwhile organization and plan to continue to do so. If you are interested in finding out how you can support this effort you can visit www.honorflightdfw.org or search for your own local chapter at www.honorflight.org. It will without a doubt be one of the most rewarding contributions you will ever make.

 

God bless America,

Jean Panek

Manager of Sales and Marketing