Badger Honor Flight
raises money with one goal in mind. To make sure every Wisconsin World War II veteran gets to go to DC to see the monuments in their honor. The 13th Badger Honor Flight was Saturday, and I was on the flight.
What a day.
Badger Honor Flight day begins at Dane Co Airport between 4:30 and 5:30 with the Veterans and their guardians checking in. The BHF volunteers must have been there many hours before that. I arrived just before 5am, and I bet every Veteran was already there. Excited and looking forward to what was ahead. Breakfast served as everyone gets their lanyards with their name and info needed for the flight and the bus you’d be on to get to each site once in DC. Question for those who organize the first food of the day. Where did those muffins come from? Fabulous.
A choir to sing the National Anthem and a few patriotic songs to start the day. Time to get on the charter flight.
79 veterans. 3 of them women. Between the age of 84 and 98. And their guardians. Some sons, some daughters, grandchildren. All with duties to assist ‘their’ veteran make the most of the day, and the anticipation of sharing in thrill all are about to experience.
I was assigned to sit next to Bob and his son Tom. Two better row mates I couldn’t have picked. We exchanged our stories and settled in for the flight.
Upon landing at Washington National Airport, The fire department gave their high honor of a water cannon salute as we taxied into the gate. That was only the beginning.
Deplaning isn’t the easiest thing to do with that many in wheelchairs, but I didn’t hear a single complaint. Imagine if that was a commercial flight. As we stepped onto the jetway, a representative of every branch of service was there to greet each and every one of us. As we walked down the decorated jetway, one could hear singing. Here comes an "Oh, Wow" moment. Into the gate area and we’re greeted with a group singing accapela songs that had to bring back memories for each and everyone. And lining each side of the area were people of all ages, thanking the vets for their service to our country, shaking hands, cheering, clapping, and it went on for 25 yards. To stand and watch the reaction of these WWII vets brought the first tear of the day to my eye. What a great welcome to the nation’s capital.
There were 4 buses and each one color co-ordinated. Red. Blue. Orange. And Green. Onto the bus for the first stop, the WWII Memorial. 4 buses, led by a police escort. No red lights, stop signs or traffic issues for us! As we debarked our buses, we were greeted by not only a gorgeous, sunny, warm day, but Elizabeth and Bob Dole. Graciously greeting the Vets one on one, posing for pictures, and thanking them for their service.
Also at this location we saw the Presidents motorcade go by. Not sure where he was headed, but that’s a big time motorcade with the number of vehicles that have to be involved.
We saw the WWII Memorial, which I’d never seen. It wasn’t there my last trip to DC. Right between the Lincoln Memorial, the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument. Everyone headed for the Wisconsin section and out came the cameras.
Next stop, the Marine Corps Memorial, lunch, then the Korean vet, Vietnam vet and Lincoln Memorial stop.
Along the way of course, I had the opportunity to interact with fellow travelers and answer questions about why Heather wasn’t on the trip, or why she won’t go thru a stop sign when there’s not a car for miles at 5 am. I saw Badger Honor Flight volunteers that I’ve met at the tailgates and got to interact with them a little bit too.
Thanks to the police escort the visit to Arlington National Cemetery was timed perfectly as we arrived just in time to watch the changing of the guard ceremony.
At this stop I had the chance to wander off on my own and walk quietly thru the endless rows of headstones of those who gave their lives for us and our country. I’d forgotten how massive, and hilly Arlington Cemetery is. But my thought was and is, We are so lucky. Row after row of men and women who made America what it is. Thank a vet. Although I wasn’t born in America, I am extremely proud to be an American.
Off to the Air Force Memorial, last stop before it’s back to Reagan Airport, and on the way to the gate, more people of all ages thanking the veterans for their service, and at the gate a group that sounded like the Andrew Sisters to entertain as we awaited our flight home.
On board. Another offer of food. And then mail call. BHF volunteers came thru the plane handing out bundles of letters that relatives, friends, schools, churches etc of the veterans had written. Personal thank yous from those in their lives. Very moving.
And to put the icing on the cake, next year when you hear about a Badger honor flight and get the invitation to come out to Dane Co Airport to greet the flight, do it. As the 79 vets and their guardians came down the stairs they were greeted by a band, and a crowd of well over a thousand cheering family members and friends.
The perfect end to a perfect day. Thank you to all veterans for what you have done and continue to do to make America what it is and what it stands for. I know I forget stuff, I should have taken notes.