In school we read about the invasion and destruction of Washington, DC by the British in the War of 1812. I was a part of an invasion of Washington, DC in October 2014 that will not go down in history but it will live forever in my memory.
This invasion was by the Rocky Mountain Honor Flight, consisting of thirty WW11 and Korean War Veterans. We were armed with cameras, wheelchairs, uniforms and twenty-seven custodians. There are many such flights from all over the United States and are provided by volunteer contributions.
I first visited Washington, DC in 1956. I drove there with my parents. sister and Grandmother Otwell in my parents brand new Ford sedan. We were able to park in front of any building and visit for as long as was necessary. Times have changed.
In later years, I returned many times with Jean and friends and on business. I wore out a lot of shoe leather walking around the mall and elsewhere throughout the area. On my first visit to the WW11 Memorial, I was privileged to meet Senator Bob Dole. I thanked him for being the guiding light behind the building of this memorial. His reply was “I‘m sure that you contributed to it also”. I answered “Yes” and backed out of the crowd.
I had heard of these trips by veteran’s groups but because of my familiarity with the area, I did not give thought to my joining them. Also, since I never was in battle or in real danger, I did not feel worthy of such an honor. A few months ago, I was invited to a men’s breakfast by my friend, Bob Stong. At the breakfast, he gave a presentation about his trip to DC with the Rocky Mountain Honor Flight.
Bob’s enthusiasm caused me to believe that I should apply to join one of the trips. The Honor Flight’s president, Mary Hadden, was in attendance and she gave me an application. Soon I was advised that I had been accepted for the next flight. My preparations began.
At 7:oo AM on October 16, I was met at the Southwest Airlines gate at Denver International Airport by a group of the custodians. All of the thirty WW11 and Korean War vets were given red sweatshirts and black baseball caps, each bearing identifying inscriptions that we were vets and part of the honor flight. Also, we were provided pouches to hang around our neck with our name in large letters on the front. 0ur driver’s license and health record were hidden inside. The custodians wore blue sweatshirts.
We were introduced to our custodians. I was in a group of five who were in the Gold Team and were led by Rob Insinger and his wife, Leslie Mitchell. Rob was my personal custodian and was always there for me when I was ready for a wheelchair. I have never known a more beautiful, caring and loving couple than Rob and Leslie.
While waiting to board the plane, strangers would come up, shake our hands and thank us for our service. These sincere utterances were hard for me to handle.
We were seated first and occupied the first ten rows of the plane. The three and half hour flight to the Baltimore airport seemed to be over quickly since I was seated next to our delightful custodian, Leslie. While taxiing to the terminal, we passed under an archway of water. The water was spewing in the air from two fire trucks, one on either side of us.
We remained seated while the other passengers disembarked. I was the first one of our group to step into the airport. It was a shock to me to be greeted by a roaring crowd of fifty or so people. They were applauding and shouting “Thank you for your service”. This encounter brought tears to my eyes. Instead of waving and shouting back to the people, I ducked my head and hurried on my way. I soon learned to control my feelings and waved as we met the people who wanted to thank us.
We were taken to the nearby Hilton Hotel for our two – night stay. We began to get acquainted in the cocktail lounge for a while before dinner. After our meal, we met a similar group from Kansas who were going home the next day. The meals at the hotel were very good and the cherry pie reminded me of the ones my mother used to bake.
The next morning, we were taken on an hour bus ride to DC. Our driver was a splendid and knowledgeable guide. He pointed out the important buildings as we drove down Pennsylvania Avenue. Buses cannot get close enough to the White House to view it.
That did not seem to bother any of us since we were too decrepit to try and scale the fence to visit the Obamas.
It was good to see that the scaffolding around the Washington Monument had been removed. We could see that scaffolding was beginning to be placed around the capitol dome for repairs. It was still magnificently beautiful.
Our first and most important stop for a visit was the WW11 Memorial. The many columns, archways, and the eagles, wreaths and bas-reliefs made of bronze, make tremendous structure impossible for me to describe. To me, the tone of the entire memorial was like being in a cathedral. I would call the altar the Freedom Wall of 4,000 gold stars commemorating the ultimate sacrifices of 400,000 service members.
The view across the Rainbow Pool of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial was remarkably beautiful. Rob directed my wheelchair to the Colorado and Oklahoma columns where he took my picture. We also found that “Kilroy Was Here”.
OTHER STOPS ON FRIDAY:
Korean War Memorial Vietnam War memorial
Lincoln Memorial Navy Memorial
Washington Navy Yard
Arlington Cemetery Air Force Memorial
(Changing of the Guard}
Franklin D, Roosevelt Memorial Marine Corps Memorial
(Raising Flag at Iwo Jima}
Many other smaller memorials and statues to war heroes were pointed out as we drove through the district. To me, the WW11 Memorial was the most majestic and impressive. I think that the Korean War Memorial was the most poignant and haunting sight we visited. I felt as if I were a part of the operation.
After we visited the FDR walk thru memorial, we boarded our bus for our trip back to the Baltimore Airport. On the flight home I was privileged to sit by my Number One custodian, Rob. We visited and watched the beautiful colors of the sunset that followed us for a long time.
The support given me by Rob had been very special. At each of our stops I would take off on my own as I do at home. In a short while, Rob would appear, smiling, and invite me to get in the wheelchair he had in hand. Believe me, I was ready for the rest and attention.
Midway through the winding path through the FDR Memorial, I heard Rob come up behind me and pleasantly invite me to sit in the chair. I was happy to accept his offer.
Rather than go back on the path the others took, he took me on a wonderful trail that goes around the tidal basin where I took wonderful pictures of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Our train arrived at the main terminal about 8:00 PM. What a shock when we came up the escalator to be greeted by more than two hundred cheering and applauding people. The most of them must have been relatives of the vets. In the crowd could be spotted a troop of boy scouts, bagpipers and other special groups.. Several young people came to me, shook my hand and thanked me for my service. I spent time talking to two brothers, aged five and seven, along with their parents.
What a way to end our adventure. This trip will be the most memorable of all my visits to DC.