I joined the Fort Belvoir Officers’ Spouses’ Club recently and was thrilled to learn they support Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transporting as many United States military veterans as possible to see the memorials of the respective war(s) they fought in Washington, D.C. at no cost to the veterans. I joined their Facebook group and thought, “Hmm…I should greet veterans someday.”
Yesterday, The National Park Service closed all of its parks, including national memorials, as a result of the government shutdown. When I heard about the veterans who one way or another, got through the barriers and toured the WWII Memorial (as well they should!) I drove to the Memorial, but arrived after they were gone.
This morning, I did not miss out.
The crowd was a mix of greeters who often gather, school kids on field trips, capitol hill staffers, and members of congress. I was a bit nervous since nobody seemed sure that the veterans would actually get into the Memorial and more barricades were in place than yesterday. Honor Flight representatives passed out American flags while we waited, journalists gathered, and I met a lovely woman who is furloughed from her job at the Department of Justice.
Eventually, I overheard somebody tell Congresswoman Ann Wagner and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (both of Missouri, and yes, I had to Google them when I got home) that “The park rangers will take a coffee break at 10:30” just in time for the arrival of the busloads of veterans and their escorts.
The crowd clapped, gave the veterans their flags, shook their hands and said, “Thank you for your service” again and again. One gentleman was overwhelmed at the crowd, the reception, and what I imagine was his first glimpse of the Memorial. When he started to cry, so did I.
I won’t mention my personal politics, but I was happy to hear Michele Bachmann say “Every day there’s a shutdown, we’re going to be here to make sure the veterans get in. There’ll be some members of Congress here to make sure they get in.” She was clutching yellow caution tape that I’m guessing she took down from the barriers…(this is me, biting my tongue.)
My new friend and I were asked to carry cases of water into the Memorial – it was an honor to be inside at the same time these heroes. I chatted with one man who landed at Utah Beach a few weeks after D Day.
Another was surprised by his granddaughter who arrived with her baby. Seeing the generations pose for photos was touching.
This amazing group survived World War II and the Great Depression, but unfortunately even they can’t hold back the passage of time. And our world will change when they are no longer with us. A little over a decade ago, there were around six million living WWII veterans; by the end of this decade (with a few hardy exceptions) they will all be gone. Sooner than we think, this unique, inspiring generation will be no more.
More pictures from a remarkable morning are over on Flickr.
An article about the day’s events is on Huffington Post.