Brief Highlights of a College-Sponsored Utah Honor Flight, Part Two
On the morning of Thursday, May 28, a group of 50 veterans, some family members, and 50 guardians (dedicated staff members each assigned to a veteran) gathered at the Utah State Fair Park for a sendoff. A U.S. Army band greeted them, and Brigadier General Kenneth L. Gammon addressed the assembly before the group boarded buses and went to the airport, escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders of Utah—a diverse group of riders who have an unwavering respect for veterans.
Military escorts provided by the Utah Army National Guard, as well as a group of bagpipe players from the Utah Pipe Band, accompanied the group to the gate. While traveling through the airport the veterans—from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—received standing ovations and cheers along with occasional salutes and handshakes from complete strangers. These strangers (who were all busy travelers themselves) took the opportunity to show respect to this group of four women and 46 men and to offer their unsolicited appreciation.
This public show of gratitude was repeated in the Baltimore Airport and at all places the group visited during their tour. Many people value patriotism and the freedoms they experience each day due to the efforts of these honored veterans.
Two unique experiences occurred during the flight. The first event involved the tradition of an in-flight mail call—the Honor Flight version of the American military postal system where veterans receive letters from home. Prior to the trip each guardian worked with the veteran’s family members to gather and obtain notes and letters from loved ones; they also received messages and cards from local elementary-school students whose principal wanted to show her school’s support.
Imagine unexpectedly being handed a large envelope that contains a collection of personal messages from your spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, and friends. For most of the veterans, the flood of emotions and recollections was great, and they were unable to hold back tears. Passengers on the flight who were not associated with the group also found themselves teary-eyed and touched with the kindness reflected in the letters and drawings.
While these messages were unique to each individual, many contained the same sentiments, which could be heard as they were read aloud in the cabin:
“I send my respect, admiration, and honor . . . ”
“You are my hero!”
“It is a privilege to be your son.”
“I am proud to be your daughter.”
“I value your leadership and strength.”
“You displayed fearlessness and fought despite fears . . .”
“Thanks for placing God and country before your needs.”
“Your devotion to others has taught love, unity, and compassion.”
“You are a leader not only to peers but to the community and our family.”
“Your influence to our nation cannot be measured nor truly understood.”
“I appreciate your being a role model for many generations.”
“You sacrificed to preserve values of this great nation.”
“Most people today have no sense of the hardship, the devotion, or what it took to keep freedom accessible in this country.”
“You have an immense dedication to the nation.”
“You preserved the rights of others.”
Read more about the three-day experience as additional posts on this blog.