Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Honor Flight

You know, I do have good intentions of posting on a regular basis, and it shouldn't be so challenging. But I get caught up on making art, and when I only have works in progress and not much to show, I drop the ball. That may not be a very good excuse, but this is. This past weekend I participated as a guardian in Honor Flight. Here is the article that I wrote for the local paper:

As we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge we looked up and saw jets streaming across the sky, looping, flying in unison, doing incredible aerial acrobatics. The Blue Angels were in San Francisco. “Charles, look! How did they know that your Honor Flight weekend was just about to start?”

This was a fitting beginning to the trip of a lifetime. El Hilligoss and I had the privilege of accompanying Charles Moon, a WWII veteran to Washington DC to participate in Honor Flight.. We had driven down from Humboldt County that day and the following morning would meet up with 24 other WWII veterans, and 14 helpers, (guardians) at the SF Airport to catch our flight. Honor Flight is a program dedicated to taking these heroes to our nation’s capitol to see the WWII Memorial. This is a completely volunteer effort and there is no cost to the veterans. It was founded in 2005 by Earl Morse, a Retired Air Force Captain, who realized that time was running out. We are losing these veterans at the rate of more than 1200 each day--the youngest vets are now 85 years old, most are closer to 90. The vast majority have never seen the monument built in their honor, and more importantly, have never received the gratitude and honor which is their due.

Upon arrival at the airport, we were all given our uniforms for the trip. We guardians wore orange tee-shirts. On the back was the motto of Honor Flight Network, a quote from Will Rogers, “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by”. Vets wore yellow. On the back was written: “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a veteran.”

That is what this program is all about, thanking these men and women, who never considered themselves to be heroes. In their own words, they were just kids just doing what needed to be done. And when the war was over, they came home, and got on with their lives. But what they did saved the world from tyranny and destruction of life as we know it.

Saturday morning we boarded our bus, and set out. The first stop was the WWII Memorial. Because of all of the walking this requires, most vets were in wheelchairs. Upon arrival we gathered for a group photo and then went to the California Pillar for the flag ceremony. Hattie, ninety-two years old (and weighing probably less than her years), placed the flag on the ledge, and we had a moment of silence and remembrance, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. Never have those words had more meaning to me. We spent the next hour or so at the Memorial. I took a photo of Charles at the Oklahoma Pillar, his native state. We paused at the Wall of Stars, where 4000 golden stars represent the 400,000 lives that were lost in combat. It reads, Here We Mark the Price of Freedom. Honor Flight groups from Minnesota and Tennessee were there as well and we had a chance to visit with some of them. The accents may have been different, but the joy that was on their faces was the same.

During the course of the day, we also visited other Memorials---Viet Nam, Korea, Iwo Jima (the Marine’s Memorial), Air Force, Navy, and the Lincoln Memorial. At one o’clock we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solder. As we drove through the city, we were also able to see the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorials as well as other important sites in our nation’s capital. Not surprisingly, these guys were troopers, but I was still amazed at their energy and endurance. They are awesome. Night had fallen as we drove back to the hotel. Our leader Debby started to sing, and as she sang “God Bless America” forty voices joined in. This great country is indeed blessed in so many ways, and these fine people, these soldiers who fought to secure our freedom, are some of the greatest blessings of all. Being with them for this experience was one of the most memorable privileges of my life.

Honor Flight depends on contributions to make this possible. Time is running out and funds are needed. If you know of a WWII veteran who would like to participate, or to learn more about how you might help, please contact Honor Flight Northern California, 530-357-3380, or email them at Or call Kathrin Burleson at 677-0490.