An old veterans trip to remember
By Bob McDonnell
“All gave some. Some gave all.” This is the tagline used by the High Plains Honor Flight (HPHF) nonprofit organization. HPHF is part of Honor Flight Network, a national network with a mission statement, “to celebrate America’s veterans by inviting them to share in a day of honor at our nation’s memorials.” Nothing on the trip costs the veteran anything.
The flights send eligible military veterans to Washington, D.C. for an overnight trip. The vets tour all the war-related memorials. This includes monuments honoring World War II, the Marine Corps (Iwo Jima), the Korean War, the Vietnam Wall, the Lincoln Memorial and a relatively new one for the Air Force. The group also goes to Arlington Cemetery and observes the Tomb of the Unknown.
Those eligible include any World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans. Also, anyone from any conflict awarded the Purple Heart may go on the honor flight.
I have been eligible to be on the flight for some time. My service in the Air Force was from 1963 to 1967, with the last year being stationed at three locations in Thailand.
I put it off, thinking others should go first. A few years ago, I was talking to someone about the honor flight. I shared with her my hesitancy. She started crying. She said her father waited, and sadly died before he could go.
Once the flight resumed after COVID-19, I sent in my application. I guess I was ready. The fact that I attend the weekly Proud American Military Breakfast every Saturday helped. I have made many new friends at the get-togethers and found out I would know about a dozen of the 120-some vets who made the trip on April 30 and May 1.
Our group on the charter flight from Loveland to Baltimore included one man from the World War II era, maybe three were Korean War vets and one was a Purple Heart Operation Iraqi Freedom vet. The majority were Vietnam veterans. Our flight had people from Wyoming, northern Colorado and western Nebraska.
The plane was packed full, since in addition to the ex-GIs, a support staff of about 60 went to make the trip special. This included medical personnel, group leaders and a wonderful group called “guardians.”
Guardians pay their own way and are responsible for two or three veterans. The guardian makes sure the vet has what they need, gets where they are going each day and that no one misses boarding one of the four buses that transported us.
My guardian, Kellie Hargreaves from Longmont, was a rookie. Many guardians go over and over to assist with the trip. Kellie is retired Army and was a great guardian for my roommate and me.
Our adventure started early Sunday morning at The Ranch. There were greeters, speakers and dignitaries and lots of activity. We boarded four C.S.U. buses. Before we went to the local airport, the buses took a roundabout route so citizens could send us off. We had a 50-motorcycle escort and saw families standing by the side of the road waving American flags as we made our way to our plane. Many law enforcement and fire departments from the area were present too.
We arrived late afternoon on Sunday. Gray skies and a bit of rain greeted us. Buses took us to the hotel in Baltimore. After settling into our rooms, we had a nice banquet dinner at the hotel. A three-star Air Force general gave a talk.
Monday morning started very early (3:15 a.m. Colorado time.) After a breakfast buffet, our day of touring started. At each of the memorials, we were told to be back at the buses at a certain time. We were free to roam around as we wished. The rain held off, and we just wore our new HPHF jackets all day.
From the last stop, we headed directly to the airport. The same plane and crew that took us out east, returned us to Loveland. During the three-and-a-half flight, we ate a box lunch and also got a pleasant surprise. It was a “mail call.” The honor flight crew handed out packets of letters and notes of thanks and appreciation from local students.
As we landed at about 8:30 p.m. Colorado time, we could see a group of greeters. The airport fire crew had equipment lining the runway with flashing lights on. Fire department and law enforcement personnel help us off the plane. A contingency of patriotic people waited inside the building at The Ranch to welcome us back.
I arrived back at my house after 10 p.m., some twenty hours after I got up. It was a long but memorable trip that I will never forget. The HPHF crew did an outstanding job.
Since my return, I have been asked what was my favorite part of the tour. That is a tough question. If I had to pick, I guess it would be the Vietnam Wall. I have seen the scaled-down traveling Vietnam Wall, but to see the more than 58,000+ names on the massive black walls was emotional. I was able to get pictures of the names of three men my wife Rhonda went to Loveland High School with.
Part of our “goodies” for the trip was a ballcap, t-shirt and jacket. The shirt and jacket both have “All gave some. Some gave all” on them. I appreciate the opportunity to go to the memorials for my fallen military brothers and sisters who gave all.
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