It was a day of firsts. It was my first time to ever wake up at 2:00am to start my day. My first fight to Baltimore. My first visit to our nation’s capital. My first time meeting Mr. W, my veteran for the day. My first time volunteering for Greater St. Louis Honor Flight, an organization whose mission is to take veterans (specifically WWII vets) on their first ever visit to the WWII memorial and other memorials in Washington DC. I pray it’s not my last trip with this wonderful organization.
It was a day of firsts for Mr. W too. Not his first trip to DC, but his first trip to his WWII memorial. His first trip to the Vietnam War Memorial. His first trip to the Korean War Memorial. His first trip to the USMC Iwo Jima Memorial. I cannot put into words how proud I am to have been allowed to escort Mr. W and 21 of his compatriots today.
These men (and one woman today), along with 16 million of their fellow Americans left their lives of comfort to serve in WWII. Some stayed stateside, others served in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters and saw acts so gruesome that they are beyond understanding. They were, and are to this day, the greatest generation. I cannot even fathom the level of their sacrifice. It supersedes words and comprehension.
We stood in the place where 4048 gold stars are set in memory of the 405,399 heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice during that war…the war that was to end all wars.
Later, we touched the wall with the names of over 54,000 men who never returned from Vietnam.
And gazed upon the statues remembering the over 45,000 heroes who died for freedom in Korea.
We stood at the base of the USMC Memorial, honoring the sacrifice all Marines have made throughout our nation’s history.
We walked among the dead at Arlington National Cemetery.
Witnessed the dignity and respect paid to the tradition of honor and duty at the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Nothing I have ever experienced puts into better perspective what the true cost of freedom is than a day like yesterday. Spending time walking among these memorials to our heroes has renewed my love for country. And refreshed my love and respect for our veterans.
I enjoyed listening to Mr. W’s stories. His marriage advice was simple…never go to bed without a kiss. I would tend to agree. He shared that he once figured over the course of a 67 year marriage to his wife they had kissed over 66,000 times. That may seem like a lot, but I did the math…it’s only 2.7 kisses a day. That’s not really all that much…although I’ve not figured out how to give seven tenths of a kiss yet. Your mom and I will have to “work” harder at that.
We talked religion and politics, and we talked about kids. His parenting advice was pretty simple too. Enjoy them while they’re young, because when it’s gone…it’s gone forever. I would agree with that as well. Time waits on no one. I’m writing part of this in the midst of the funeral visitation for Jr., and this truth is never made more clear than when facing death. Jr. served in WWII. I wonder if he had a chance to see the WWII memorial before he passed. I sure hope so.
Mr. W shared some of his stories with me, and I enjoyed seeing the passion in his eyes as the past came back to him. Right before we left the WWII Memorial, he said that being there brought the memories he had buried deep within his mind back to the surface…”it’s like I’m right there all over again.” He kept saying things over and over that I imagine any man who’s seen war up close would say…”why do we have to do this to ourselves? There’s got to be another way.” And at the Korean War Memorial, he commented in agreement with the 4 words inscribed on the wall:
I couldn’t agree more. Four simple words never held such deeper meaning. I imagine Jesus thought the same thing as He was dying for our freedom.
I wish I knew more of my own family’s stories. With all my grandparents gone now, the stories of our past are fading into the past with them. I’m encouraged a little for y’all, in that you’ll have these notes to look back on some day. I just pray that our country is in better shape by then than it is now so you can enjoy the freedom for which so many have sacrificed so much.
Never forget, children, that we live in a nation whose freedom was earned through the blood, sweat, tears, lives and sacrifices of the men and women who stood up when their nation called. Who responded by running into harms way because they knew that freedom is never free. I’m honored to have experienced this day. I’m honored to have sat among these true heroes. I’m honored to have met them and shared their day with them. It was an honor to show them a little piece of the great honor they deserve. The honor they’ve earned. It truly was a day of honor.
P.S. If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a veteran.