Biloxi, Mississippi (Ammoland.com) As I sat at my desk on a Monday sipping coffee and sorting emails before actually attempting to work, my wife hollered up the stairs.
“Do you have plans for tomorrow evening?” Well, I didn’t and told her so. She continued, “I just forwarded you an article from the Sun Herald, there is an Honor Flight tomorrow and they are inviting people to come out and welcome the veterans back home.”
The decision was an easy one and we let the kids know that on the evening of Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 we’d make the short drive to Gulfport/Biloxi Airport to welcome home the World War II vets who would be making the flight.
For those who still do not know what an Honor Flight is, allow me a moment. In 2005, an organization was created to assist the rapidly diminishing number of World War II veterans in traveling to Washington D.C. to visit the National WWII Memorial. The Honor Flight Network is funded by private donations and pays the complete cost of transporting WWII veterans and a guardian to assist them for a one-day trip to the capital city. Veterans range in ages from 85 to 99 years old. These men and women visit the WWII Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. It is a tremendous undertaking, the veterans leave early in the morning and are returned to their point of origin that evening.
My own grandfather, Charles McClelland, a US Navy veteran who was injured at Pearl Harbor and served out his tour until 1946, took an Honor Flight previously.
Faux Govt Shut Down
Monday came and went like most Mondays will. On Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 I started my day running numerous errands. While listening to the radio in the truck I heard about the supposed “Government Shut Down“. Apparently, while hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” workers were furloughed, the NSA kept on spying on us, the IRS kept on fleecing the tax-payers and the TSA kept right on being inept.
While in the middle of a task my phone rang. It was my lovely bride who excitedly asked me if I’d read the story she’d just forwarded to me. I admitted that I did not and she admonished me to hang up, read the story on my Smart Phone (aint technology grand) and call her back. The title of the news story said it all; “Honor Flight Veterans push past barricades at WWII Memorial”.
As cynical as I have become over the last of couple decades, I never would have imagined that in our nation’s capital there had been forces at work to barricade an open air memorial in an attempt to keep the people of the United States out.
Investigating further, it was explained that the buses carrying the WWII veterans from Mississippi arrived at the Memorial to find barricades, police tape, and signs explaining that all National Parks were closed due to government shut down. As an aside, anyone who tells you that this supposed shut down was a last minute decision is either woefully naive or a deliberate liar. Thousands of signs don’t print themselves overnight and despite claiming that the government is broke, we can apparently pay for “Closed” signs to be printed and for people to hang them and barricade the parks.
The phyical barricades were moved aside by members of the US House of Representatives including Steven Palazzo (R) Mississippi, himself a US Marine, and Michelle Bachmann (R) Iowa and others. The veterans, their guardians, and members of the Honor Flight organization entered the National WWII Memorial, laid a wreath at the Mississippi section and took time to quietly honor those who went before them. US Park employees looked on as members of the media descended.
Throughout the day I kept up with the news, it seemed that every media outlet in the United States had picked up on the story. Like a kid at Christmas, I kept checking the clock. My family loaded up an and headed over to GPT more than an hour before the return Honor Flight was scheduled to arrive. In my heart I hoped their would be a decent turnout, I had no idea what to expect. (yes, the Student of the Gun TV cameramen were there too)
My first indication that something major was underway came when we had to sit through three traffic light cycles to make the left turn onto Airport Road. Up ahead we saw three yellow school buses and behind them, twenty or more motorcycles. The caravan down Airport Road stretched without gap for miles. Upon arrival we found that the primary parking garage and the auxiliary lots we near capacity. We were fortunate to find a spot in the last row, in the farthest part of the lot.
Hundreds of people were streaming from their cars to the airport entrance. We saw military personnel in their dress and utility uniforms, Marines in their striking Dress Blue uniforms and sailors in their Dress Whites. There were boy scout and girls scouts troops, high school cheerleaders and the local school marching band. With still over an hour until the flight was scheduled to arrive, the airport waiting, ticketing, and baggage claim areas were a bustle of activity. GPT is a relatively small airport with only six gates.
Men, women, and children with handheld American flags and handmade welcome home signs lined the hallways and gate arrival area. The local JROTC group had their Honor Guard in place with swords in hand. As we waited, the US Air Force Marching Band from Keesler AFB cheered the crowd with patriotic music. The hymns and anthems for each branch of service were played, and yes, the hairs raised on the back of my neck as the Halls of Montezuma was performed.
When the flight was reported to be thirty minutes out, the local Honor Flight chairman took to the P.A. and asked for everyone’s attention. A lovely young lady played the National Anthem on the violin as men and women, young and old, stood in silence with their hands over their hearts. Those in attendance were given the some basic guidelines. We were advised that it would take a bit of time for all of the returning veterans, more than ninety and many in wheelchairs, to deplane and make it out into the terminal. Attendees were encourages to shake their hands individually and offer their appreciation for the veterans service to this nation.
The crowd was electric with anticipation as the airplane touched down. An Honor Guard of Marines and Sailors lined the tarmac as the aircraft slowly taxied to the gate and the airports fire crew used crossed water cannons to salute the returning heroes. As they entered the terminal a choir of wonderful young ladies sang the service hymns to greet them. Uniformed members of the Navy SeaBees, stationed in Gulfport, took place behind the wheelchairs when required or walked next to WWII vets who were still able to make it under their own steam.
The Rolling Stones and the Beatles would have been humbled by the reception that the returning World War II veterans received. Every face held a smile and most eyes showed tears of joy and respect. The veterans, each wearing an official red Honor Flight t-shirt made their way through a gauntlet of adoring family, friends, and American citizens. The Air Force Color Guard lead the way down the long terminal hall as veterans made their way. Hands were shook and hugs were given. Red roses were offered to the few female veterans on hand.
My heart swelled as I watched one woman step out of the crowd as each veteran passed. She hugged them and kissed them on the cheek and didn’t miss a single one. Small children smiled and waved. Hard corps Vietnam Veterans with their leather vests wiped tears from their eyes as they showed their respect, shook hands, thanked the men and women and welcomed them home.
The Torch of Liberty
The already boisterous crowd broke into louder cheers and applause as one of Honor Flight Guardians with a veteran walking beside him entered the terminal with a section of yellow tape that read “Police Line Do Not Cross”. They held it up as a trophy and symbol of victory over the bureaucratic oppression they had challenged. Not far behind came another guardian with a liberated sign that read “Because of Federal Government SHUTDOWN all National Parks are CLOSED”.
The cheers and applause was deafening as the hundreds, if not more than a thousand, members of the welcoming party realized those symbols of oppression had been removed from occupied territory and brought to Free America.
The Spirit of America is not dead, it may be on life support and nearly unrecognizable in many parts of this nation, but the flame still burns. That passionate light of patriotism is still alive, all it needs some oxygen to reignite it from an ember to a full blown fire of liberty.
With American citizens faced with a feeling of futility and hopelessness, these World War II veterans, who may have once thought that their time of service had long passed, once again, as they did six decades ago, inspired their fellows and showed them that even in the face of mounting oppression that there indeed is still hope for the greatest nation this world has even known. It would be a disservice and dishonorable for us to simply fall back into a state of morass and cynicism. The sands in the hour glass are rapidly disappearing for the Greatest Generation, that is simply the reality of life. We, the citizens of the United States of America can indeed pick up the torch of liberty that these veterans fought so hard and sacrificed so much to pass on to us.
Their aging hands are outstretched, will you take that torch from them or let the fire go out?
Paul Markel © 2013
About the Author
Paul Markel has been a firearms industry writer for twenty years and is the author of the new book “Student of the Gun; A beginner once, a student for life.” Paul hosts and produces “Student of the Gun” a show dedicated to education, experience, and enjoyment of firearms.