By Heidi Grogan
Yesterday, November 11, was Veterans Day. The origin of Veterans Day began with the commemoration of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I (Major hostilities of World War I formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.) The day was initially known as Armistice Day, but in 1954, an act of Congress changed “Armistice” Day to “Veterans” Day in order to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I.
This summer I had the opportunity to attend an event at Miller Park called Field of Honor, A Salute to the Greatest Generation. The Honor Flight program flies veterans to see the World War II Memorial, in addition to other memorials in Washington, D. C. at no cost to them. Time is of the essence, as World War II veterans are dying at an estimated rate of 1,000 every day. The men and women who served in World War II saw their service as their duty; when the survivors came back, they didn’t talk about it. They just got on with their lives. There really was never a “thank you.” The WW II Memorial – their “thank you”- was completed in 2004, 60 years after the war ended. Most of the veterans were in their 80’s and 90’s and physically or financially unable to make the trip – that’s where the Honor Flights came in.
The Miller Park gathering featured a film premiere depicting the origins of the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight organization in Southeast Wisconsin. The film illustrated how a great group of volunteers, spearheaded by Joe Dean, and assisted in public relations efforts by two outstanding veterans, the cantankerous Harvey and the soft-spoken Joe, got these flights going. The film also documented veterans’ experiences as they journeyed to Washington, D.C. to see their World War II Memorial for the first time. The turnout at the Miller Park event was inspiring, as a sell-out crowd, including many veterans, watched the documentary. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
The Stars and Stripes chapter has flown 2,451 veterans from Southeast Wisconsin to Washington D.C. since the Fall of 2008. Stars and Stripes features many wonderful volunteers who serve tirelessly in coordinating various aspects of these flights, some of whom assist as “guardians” and travel as companions to the Vets when they make the trip to D.C. I found out about the program from my co-worker, Bob Warren, who is one of these volunteers. He has served as a guardian to a Vet on one of the flights; he shows up at 3:30 a.m. on the mornings of flight days to help coordinate and provide a proper send-off to the veterans; in addition, he comes back to the airport at 6:00 p.m. to greet and cheer them when they return.
My dad was a member of the Greatest Generation. He served as a Corporal in the Army in World War II. He was part of the 2nd wave that landed at Normandy Beach in France. As his assignment, he was part of one of three installations close to enemy lines, which intercepted German radio transmissions and tracked enemy aircraft. Speaking fluent German, he served as an interpreter, translating German intelligence. One of the highlights of his service was marching into Paris on V-E Day at the end of the war on May 8, 1945. There was an overwhelming show of support and elation for the servicemen – all over the city people sang, kissed each other and paraded through the streets.
I would have loved to have been my dad’s guardian on one of the Honor Flights; unfortunately, he died in 2004, the same year that the World War II memorial was completed, and he never had the opportunity to see it. As part of the “Greatest Generation,” my dad took part in World War II, not for fame or recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. This is the case for all of our veterans, not only those who served in WW II, but in all of our wars. As the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, stated in his Veterans Day address this year: “Twenty-two million living Americans today have distinguished themselves by their service in uniform. Their devotion and sacrifice have been the bedrock of our sovereignty as a Nation, our values as a people, our security as a democracy, and our offer of hope to those in other lands, who dream our dreams of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Many of our veterans are no longer with us, and we never had an opportunity to express our gratitude to them for making our country the great country it is today. On Veterans Day and every day, it’s important to remember the contributions of all of the men and women who have served in the armed forces of the United States of America and have safeguarded our country for the last 236 years. Remember, when you see one of these fine people who have served our country so unselfishly, take a moment and say, “Thank you!”
For more information on the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight organization, check out their website: http://www.starsandstripeshonorflight.org/
For more information on the Honor Flight movie: http://www.honorflightthemovie.com/