Friday, June 22, 2012

A hero's welcome

I mentioned yesterday that I was fortunate enough to be able to welcome a group of veterans as they returned home from Birmingham's very last Honor Flight. I was excited to be a part of this, but I had no idea what an incredible experience it would be. Holy moly. Goosebumps ahead...ready yourself.

I arrived at the airport way earlier than proved to be necessary. Oh well. What better place to people-watch than at the airport? I began to feel self-conscious about the utter lack of Americana in my attire.

{sent a text explaining my dilemma}
{Just realized that the other text makes me sound like a hardcore gambler. I am not. More about our stay at the casino later.}

Thankfully, I was able to dig some red earrings out of the depths of my enormous purse (saddlebag, as Daddy calls it). That made me feel like a better American. I also found a wrapped plastic spoon and a little baggie of paper clips. In case you get stranded somewhere, you're gonna want my purse with you.

Two ladies approached my table and asked if they could sit with me. We ended up chit-chatting for nearly an hour and they pretty much adopted me into their family. They were a mother/daughter team there to greet their husband/dad. He is a Korean War veteran (and a Purple Heart recipient, to boot) and was a POW for 27 months. The wife said that she didn't see him for over 3 years while he was deployed, and that, for those 27 months, she didn't know whether he was alive or dead.

Chew on that for a minute. Can you imagine??? I can't, and I'm thankful that I can't. Bless both of their hearts. She said they've been married for 58 years and rarely spend time apart. She said that she was missing him like crazy (after being separated for 12 hours) and couldn't wait to see him. Sweetness.

I didn't know that Korea and Vietnam veterans were also on the flight. I thanked my new friends for educating me.

I expected a crowd, since this was the last Honor Flight and all, but I wasn't expecting hundreds of people. Seriously, hundreds.

My two new friends were very upset that they'd left their cameras at home. Thankfully, I was totin' mine so I volunteered to be their photographer. When it came time for the families to move up front, they told the organizer that I was waiting to see my grandfather. See what I mean? They pretty much adopted me. All that was missing was the paperwork.

I can't even describe how exciting it was to see those men (and women! woohoo!) walk out of the terminal. Many of them mentioned that they weren't expecting a big crowd and there were lots of ear-to-ear grins and some tears. One man said, "Is all this for us??" Bless him. Those brave souls deserved every bit of this warm welcome.

{The videographer...aka, a bit distracted at the end. My new friends' soldier had just come into view, and I was asking them which one he was so I could snap pictures for them. Taking pictures became priority #1, so the video suffered. Taking great pictures with one's right hand and great video with one's left hand...simultaneously...requires more skill than I was blessed with.}

{I got to meet this lady after it was over. She was a nurse during WWII. Awesome.}

{There he is!}

{My new friends were so excited.}

{Another incredible lady!}

{This sweet soldier was a delight. Once he saw how many people were cheering for him and his fellow flight participants, he got up out of his wheelchair and started cheering along with everyone, waving his flag very vigorously. He was so excited. Such a fun moment in time.}

{This dear girl shook the hand of every single soldier who came by. Precious.} 

{This pretty lady absolutely made my night. She told me she worked in a factory during WWII while her husband was overseas. I wish I'd gotten a picture of her reuniting with her soldier. She looked so proud of him.}

I think the Honor Flight program is incredible and I'm very sad to see it end, at least in our area. If you ever have the opportunity to participate in a homecoming, please do so. Every soldier deserves to feel like a hero, even if it's for just a few moments in time.


  1. Wow! How special to see and be part of something so special. I am sure you were overcome with so many emotions. These men made such sacrifices. Glad you could be the photographer for your new friends/family members...know they appreciated it!

  2. I am so proud of you for going up there! You know that I lost my grandfather on Christmas Eve - he was a WWII Vet who never got to see the memorial. I agree the program is awesome and I hate to see it end. What a sacrifice those men made - absolutely The Greatest Generation!!

  3. Elizabeth, it was so special! I'm still thinking about it. I hope my new friends enjoyed their pictures...I still have a lot to learn about photographing such a "busy" setting :)

    Happy new week, friend, and thanks for stopping by!


  4. Kimberly! You found me! I'm so excited to see a comment from you :) I remember you saying that your grandfather was a WWII veteran. I don't know if he ever shared about his experience, but if he did, I bet he had some incredible stories! The Greatest Generation indeed.

    Thanks for stopping by, friend. You made my day!


  5. what a special thing to be a part of. i know your new friends (family) were so grateful for pictures.

  6. Sarah Barry, I just got an email from my new family members and they seemed really tickled over the pictures. I still have a lot to learn about taking pictures when nobody is staying still :) Thanks for stopping by, and I hope yall's new week is off to a lovely start!



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