A typical day for Fayette County's WWII veterans on Honor Flight
On May 4th, Honor Flight Fayette will take another group of World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial, bringing the total to about 420 men and women who have been honored by this non-profit organization since May of 2008.
A very dedicated group of volunteers has worked tirelessly for 2 ½ years to insure that members of our “greatest generation” have a day trip that they will not forget, because we are losing these men and women at the rate of over 1,000 per day. Also, a doctor, 2 nurses and 4 members of the Fayette county emergency medical service accompanies each flight.
The day begins with breakfast, often provided by Chick-fil-A or Waffle House, at Fayetteville First United Methodist Church. There the veterans mingle for the first time that day with others of their era to reflect and remember. Then they board buses from FFUMC and First Baptist of Fayetteville, and leave to cheers and waving of flags by appreciative members of the community.
In addition to being escorted by the Fayette County Sheriff’s office, Fayetteville police department and Peachtree City police officers, the buses are led by members of the Patriot Guard motorcycle group. Many of these men and women have flags mounted on the rear of their motorcycles, and they form an “honor guard” for the veterans to pass through from the buses into the Atlanta airport. The veterans have always stated their appreciation for all of these groups, and are amazed that cars stop and police officers salute as they pass through intersections.
Air Tran makes this flight memorable for everyone involved in so many ways. They have extra security lines open just for this group, as many of them move slowly or are in wheelchairs, which are always provided at no charge by Absolute Medical. When the plane lands at Reagan Airport, and when they return to Atlanta, they are greeted by crowds cheering and waving flags who have been alerted by Air Tran of their arrival. There are many tears and smiles by the veterans who often ask in surprise “are these people all here for us?” When they returned from World War II there was no fanfare, just concern about finding jobs and returning to civilian life, and they are very moved by this display of patriotism and gratitude.
In Washington, D.C. they board comfortable motor coaches and are taken to their Memorial where they spend time observing and recalling memories of their service during war time. Some of them have never shared with their families their experiences of being shot down, as prisoners of war, or hiding from the enemy with the help of those on our side in foreign lands. They were at Pearl Harbor, Omaha Beach, Normandy or served stateside, and many of them have been decorated, but all are heroes.
A group of active and guard military personnel meets every flight at Reagan Airport and assists Honor Flight Fayette, and their guardian volunteers, with the veterans throughout the day. Their support, led by SSG Joshua Romans of Fayetteville, is invaluable and much appreciated by HFF and the veterans.
Time permitting, a stop is made at other memorials. However, a stop is always made at Arlington Cemetery where they watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. This solemn ceremony never fails to evoke appreciation from those who have, or those who have not, served in our military.
Dinner is back at Reagan Airport in a space provided by the local USO. By now, tired but at the same time energized by their experiences, the veterans share with each other about the day they have just enjoyed, and are enlightened by the stories of those who served in different areas of combat than they had experienced.
Back in Atlanta, the veterans are once again greeted, even late in the day, by Air Tran personnel and everyone else in the area who has heard the announcement that they are arriving. Once again they hear “thank you for your service” and receive hugs or handshakes of appreciation. They board the church buses for Fayetteville and a day, many say, was the “best day of my life”, although some add “after my marriage” or “the birth of my children”. Any way you look at it, Honor Flight Fayette and the citizens of Fayette county have given a special gift to those who made our many freedoms of life today possible.
A few weeks after each flight Fayette Senior Services volunteers their facility so that Honor Flight Fayette can host a reception and reunion of the veterans, their family members, their guardians, volunteers and the HFF board members. More surprises await them at this reception, and it is a memorable time for all involved.
If you would like to contribute to Honor Flight Fayette, are a veteran, or wish to be a volunteer or guardian, please call 770-719-1024. However, no donations will be accepted from World War II veterans as the sole purpose of Honor Flight Fayette is to thank them for their patriotism and sacrifices.