Honor Flights – A Healing Journey

Back in 2005, an organization with a unique mission was brought into being to honor those who have served this country in the uniforms of our Armed Forces. It is simply called “Honor Flights,” and it has a simple mission: “To celebrate America’s veterans by inviting them to share in a day of honor at our nation’s memorials.” It is a mission formed out of gratitude for our veterans’ service and selflessness.

From 2005 through 2022, Honor Flight missions from all over the country have transported some 273,543 veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the sites and to be honored at the various memorials that honor the veterans of the wars this nation has fought. Last year (2022), 21,800 veterans were taken to Washington, D.C. This included 856 WWII veterans, 2,960 Korean War veterans, 16,903 Vietnam veterans, and 1,081 others.

Photo: YouTube/Alaska’s News Source

These veterans are accompanied by volunteers called “Guardians.” There are regularly scheduled flights from all of the states. Those veterans who need physical help and or emotional help to get around the environs in Washington, D.C., or onto and off of the planes are assigned or bring their own volunteer Guardians who are generally drawn from the local areas or are relatives of the individual veteran. In 2022, some 18,709 volunteer Guardians were transported on the various Honor Flights.

These trips are powerful experiences for our veterans. The number of WWII veterans who are able to go on these Honor Flights is growing dramatically smaller every year, but there are still some among the other veterans on each of these flights. Korean and Vietnam veterans are now in their 70s and 80s themselves. The veterans’ reasons for participating in these Honor Flights are, of course, unique to each veteran, but there are some universal reasons as well. Most of them have experienced the horrors of combat and the loss of friends on the battlefield. For some of them, this trip is a means of closure; for others, it is a means for the healing of memories, of the psychological wounds and scars that they have carried within them over their lives. For some, it is to experience once again that camaraderie that was so common to them during their military and wartime service. In any case, these trips often prove to be experiences of profound significance to them.

Photo: YouTube/Alaska’s News Source

The vision of the Honor Flights program is to help create “a nation where all of America’s veterans experience the honor, gratitude, and community of support they deserve.” WWII veterans experienced that open honor, gratitude, and community from their fellow citizens upon their return home. Korean War veterans, on the other hand, came home to an almost palpable silence after their war, which has come to be known as the “Forgotten War.” For Vietnam veterans, the experience of coming home was often one of hate and derision.

The fact is that these Honor Flights are very emotional experiences for all of the veterans that go on them. Don Adams is one of the Vietnam veterans you will see in this video out of Channel 2 in Anchorage, Alaska. He expresses an emotion that is very recognizable to Vietnam veterans when he says, “I lost some good friends in Vietnam. Hopefully, I can find some of their names on The Wall and put my hands on them.”

Photo: YouTube/Alaska’s News Source

He will. That memorial is unique in that it lists all of the names of those who fell during the 10 years of that war. They appear on the wall according to the dates when they fell. He will be able to find those names, and he will be able to touch them and even take a rubbing of them to take home with him. As he stands before that polished black granite wall, he will see his own image reflected in it, as if he is standing behind those names.

Each of the memorials is a tangible, visible presence in our nation’s capital. They are all located on or near the Mall between the Washington and Lincoln Monuments. They are each unique and powerful evocations of honor to those who fought in those wars. The WWII Monument is grand and covers a large area honoring both the European and Pacific Theaters of fighting in that war. The Korean Memorial is a haunting depiction with its platoon of individual sculpted soldiers marching through a field in the cold, wrapped in their panchos, carrying their weapons, radios, and medical bags as if on patrol. There is a polished stone wall there too, with powerful and very moving etchings in it depicting various places, famous individuals, and the various units that fought in that war.

Photo: YouTube/Alaska’s News Source

The Vietnam Memorial is simple in design. Miya Lin, the undergraduate architecture student whose design was chosen for the memorial, wanted to make an abstract, apolitical monument that drew attention to individual sacrifice. It is a clean, straightforward, even stark statement of honor toward those who fell and has been one of the most visited memorials in Washington, D.C., since it was opened in 1982.

We want to add our honor and gratitude toward all of our nation’s veterans for their selfless service. Their sacrifices must never be forgotten. We thank all who are involved with the Honor Flights Program as well. Thank you for making it possible for so many of our veterans to have that close and personal experience of being recognized for their service by taking them to the various memorials that represent their particular moment in history.

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