Collier County Honor Flight is a 501c3 organization that takes veterans from Southwest Florida to Washington DC to visit their memorials for the day. A lot of these ,me mad women have never seen these great works of art. This is my second mission, and This time around I have a spunky lady names Jean.
Jean served in World War II as a Navy Wave. A Navy Wave is a women who………… Jean was also a store keeper. She was able to learn so many ne thing she said was that if the women were to be caught not wearing their uniform, they got in a lot of trouble. She said many of her friends got caught, but she didn’t even try. **wink, wink **
Our day started when the alarm went off at 3:00am. I met my Mother-in-law at her house at 3:45am, where we left Bonita Springs, and headed up to Estero to pick up her veteran Frank. Once we had Frank we were off to Southwest Florida Regional Airport (RSW) for our 4:30M check-in time. Jean was a.ready there waiting for me, she was there at 4:00am. Once I checked in I grabbed Jean, and we headed down the concourse.
Our gate was D4. As soon as we got to the gate we were greated with breakfastsandwiches, juice, water, and some muffins. This is where we were able to see all 68 veterans that we’re going to experience this life changing day with us. Jean partaked in the breakfast, I was just a spectator. We took a look around and chatted a bit about the day, and what to expect. She was super excited.
Collier County Honor Flight charters a flight through American Airlines. This time we flew on a A320 aircraft. Now, let me tell you, this flight crew is absolutely amazing. They decorated the flight with flags, red, white and blue led lights, star garland throuout the whole roof of the aircraft and some other decorations throughout. Upon boarding and finding our row 7 seats, we were greated with a bag of snacks and comfortable seating. Jean was so excited, and her smile light up the plane.
At 6:05am we were backing away from the gate. During our taxi the plane was given a water salute. This salute is given to the veterans thanking and honoring their service. In the few row of veterans I could see, many saluted back, and even some geared up just a brim. By 6:10am we were wheels up, and headed north to Washington DC. After about 20 minuets in the air, when you looked out to the East, we were greated with a spectactular sun rise. Photos cannot describe the vivid colors. I knew then, this was going to be a very memorable day.
Phew! We had an amazing flight, with some awesom staff to Washington DC. After a two hour and ten minute flight it was time to stretch our legs. Off the plane we went. We were greated by am occopella group, and a few hundred smiling faces. With me having one of the two women on this Mission, a lot of people stopped us for photos, hand shakes, hugs, and of course the Thank You.
Our first stop of the day was to the World War II memorial. Here is where I found out that Jean grew up in New Jersey, but enlisted in the Navy in New York. So naturally we had to find the states and take photos in front of them. Jean marveled at the amount of people who showed up, as well as the memorial itself. We had about an hour to spend there, and we used every bit of it.when we were leaving I had Jean stand up at the top and look over. She immodestly had a tears in her eyes.
Meal Time!!!!! We had a picnic style lunch from Arby’s at the World War II memorial. I took this time to talk to Jean a little more. I learned that she met her 1st husband as a young lady, married, had two children 1 boy and 1 girl. About 9 years total was her 1st marriage. She soon ment her forever, her soul mate, George. George took on the role as step-father and spent the next 38 years with Jean and the kids. Jean lost George and found the courage to move by her daughter in St. Louis. After about 2 years she lost her daughter to cancer. Jean found herself moving to Florida to be close to her son and his family. Jean once again picked up and stared over. Though she missed her loved ones, she knew she had continue on. Jean began to tell me about her life in Southwest Florida. She is a busy little bee. she works at the neighborhood store, plays cards, and takes field trips all over the place.
After the World War II memorial we were back on. The bus and off to the Pentagon. Normally they do not allow bus loads of people to visit, but they made an acception for us. This building is massive to say the least. When you approach the memorial, there is the stone sigh with who was involved in the creation of the memorial as well as another stone sign that has all the names of who’s lives were lost at the Pentagon. The memorial is located where the aircraft hit the ground and slid into the building. There is a mixture of rocks, and pavers to walk on. Each person is remembered with a garnet bench. With flowing water under them. If they were related to someone else who’ll at their life, their names are etched on the metal under the flowing water. The benches either face the building or the direction where the plane hit. If the bench is facing the building their lives were lost in the aircraft that hit. If their bench is facing the direction the aircraft hit, they were in the Pentagon. All of the benches are arranged by birth year, from youngest to oldest. There is a section that does not have any benches, this represents that no teenagers were lost that day. Jean and I too a walk around, and just marveled at the details put into this memoirial. We also discussed that most freshman in high school were not born when this took place.
This time, Collier County Honor Flight had the honor to lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetary at the tomb of the unknown solider. This time two of the board members and two veteran were honored. Jean was so amazed by how accurate they soldiers were. She loved when they clicked their heals. She also really enjoyed the procedure for the changing of the guards, and the wreath laying. She may have brimmed up a little when she watched her friend Sylevestar participate in the wreath laying ceremony.
Next stop was Imo Gma. This is the monument for then Marines. I have a brother who served in desert storm as a Marine I was only in 1st grade at the time, but I remember some of what we went through as a family. Most of which are photos, and remembering what my parents said was going on at the house at the time, or the trip to South Carolina to watch him graduate from boot camp (I think). Any who, this memorial is huge! There are men raising the flag, it’s said that there are 13 hands built in the memorial. 12 representing the 6 men, and 1 hand from God. Jean and I took a stroll around the monument, marveling at its size, and what it stands for.
Final stop of the day was the Vietnam War Memorial Wall and the Korean War Memorial. However, we may have taken a detour and stopped at the Lincon Memorial as well. These memorial have a lot hills and ramps to go up and down. We first got off the bus and headed to the Lincon Memoria. Neither of us have seen it, and boy were we impressed with all the marble, details, and the height. After we looked at the monument, we turned around to see the vew of the Washington Monument and the Reflection Pool. Both of us were amazed. We then headed down the elevator and back down the ramps to the Vietnamese War Memorial Wall. Jean was impressed with the construction, and just how many names were on the wall . After we came up the other side, we saw another monument with some benches and somewhere from the flight we stopped to learn that monument is to honor the nurses who have served. She sat amongst the trees, and talked with my mother-in-law and her guy Frank about their day, as well some others. Once We were rested, we headed though aall the trees and hills towards the Korean War Memorial. Jean and I were so excited to see “real” trees, some of the leaves have started to change colors. We toured through the Korean War Memorial, and I told her about the significance of the different elements. She was really impressed with the statues of the men, and the wall of photos.
We headed back to the bus as our time was running out, and we saw a refreshment & souvineer stand, so we stopped. I ended up getting Jean a t-shirt and fridge magnet, I also got my kids a Washington DC t- shirt. We also enduldged in an ice cream sandwich and cold beverage. Sitting there we talked about how much we saw and accomplished that day. This brought tears to Jeans eyes, just to know that she was able to see all these memorials and monuments.
At the end of the day there are always two surprises for the veterans. One happens on the plane, and the other happens when we arrive back at RSW. Once we are are cruising altitude, you see all the pink shirts get up, and they make a special announcement. Following this announcement, you see lots of tears as these hero’s open up their presents. Once on the ground, the pink shirts line everyone up in shirt color order, like the buses. This is where they hand the veterans the photo taken at the World War II memorial, and a Collier County Honor Flight coin. Then they hear hear the cheering, bagpipes, and chatter of what they think is just family members. What they do not know, is there is anywhere between 3,000-5,0000 or more waiting to give them the welcome home they never had. From the surprise in the air on the way home, to the welcome home at RSW, Jean was taken back by all the “magic” that happens.
There was one part that sticks out the most to me. While Jean and I were sitting in the airport to come home, she looks over at me and says, “I have lived a great life, there may have been some bumps that slowed me down, but I had a great life.”