Last spring, 118 very patriotic people went to Washington, D.C. They didn't go to complain. They didn't go to protest the political situation.
They went to be honored for their service to our country during the Second World War.
The veterans flew on a chartered US Airways jet, accompanied by 49 guardians, three emergency medical technicians and a couple of physicians. Every veteran received a badge, a commemorative hat and a U.S. flag.
Six Brazilian students, part of a Rotary International group study exchange, also made the trip to witness how we honor our veterans.
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On the veterans' return that Saturday night, a big, enthusiastic crowd gathered at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport to greet them. People cheered, waved flags and held up signs. Family members, friends and supporters kissed and hugged the vets and thanked them for their service.
My favorite sign said, "Paw Paw, You Are Our Hero!"
'Wouldn't have missed it'
The preceding Thursday morning, a few days before the flight, I stopped by Richard's Coffee Shop and Military Museum in Mooresville, where veterans of all ages go for coffee, cookies and conversation.
Len McCutcheon, a veteran of the Army's 77th Infantry, and Richard Keenan, an Army Air Corps veteran, had gone on a Flight of Honor last year.
"One of the greatest things," said McCutcheon, "was when the high school ROTC saluted us and then cheered for us."
Keenan said, "One of the greatest things I ever had was when the crowd cheered and greeted us and shook our hands and thanked us."
I met George Kalmar and Robert Kabel in the coffee shop. They were both scheduled to make the trip that Saturday.
Kalmar had served in the Army infantry. I saw him, too, at the airport that Saturday night.
"I had a great time. I couldn't believe how well we were treated," said Kalmar.
"... I wouldn't have missed this for the world," he said.
Mary Foreman, 88, of Mount Ulla, near Mooresville, was a Navy nurse at Pearl Harbor, starting in 1943. Returning from the Flight of Honor, she was all smiles as she was kissed, hugged and thanked while her wheelchair was rolled through the crowd.
Foreman cared for wounded soldiers in a group of Quonset huts known as Hospital 128, across from Hickam Field.
"There was a big reception at the Washington airport," asid Foreman. "They had a band and hundreds of people greeting us as we came off the plane. Everyone was wonderful."
She described one of the highlights of her day: "My best thing was meeting Liddy (former U.S. senator Elizabeth) Dole. She was so gracious. She greeted us at the North Carolina part of the memorial."
"We had lunch at a beautiful park along the Potomac, saw the Capitol building, went down Pennsylvania Avenue," she said. "I was really happy to see the Air Force Memorial."
As I watched the families welcome their heroes, I missed my father, who died when I was 11.
He served in the miltary but never got into battle. He lost his hands in an explosion during a training exercise stateside. He thought he never got to do his part, but I think he did.
The main objective of the Flight of Honor was to give veterans an opportunity to visit the World War II Memorial, which was built for them: the 16 million people who served during that war, the more than 400,000 who died in it and those who supported the war from home. More than 4 million people visit it every year.
The local flights are made possible by Rotary District 7680, part of the service organization Rotary International. At the time of this flight last spring, Karen Shore was governor of District 7680, which comprises 52 local Rotary clubs throughout the Charlotte region. She was at the airport holding a Rotary banner and greeting the veterans.
"The families are amazed, when the vets return, that they are talking and sharing as never before," said Shore.
We are losing our World War II veterans at a rate of 1,000 per day.
This year, Flights of Honor from many states were scheduled April through November.
Thousands of veterans have been taken to the memorial each yearFlights of Honor is the continuation of the vision of Jeff Miller's Honor Air, an N.C. program to send every local World War II veteran to see the World War II Memorial.
Plans are already in the works to honor Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.
We must honor all who serve to protect and preserve our nation. Make sure to display your U.S. flag on Veterans Day.
To all veterans, thank you for your service to our nation.