Utah Honor Flight – One of Life’s Finest Experiences

Our debt to the heroic man and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.

— Inscription from National World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Some things can’t adequately be put into words, some are best relegated to feelings but I’m going to try anyway and share some impressions about my recent experience as a Utah Honor Flight guardian. It was one of the finest experiences of my life.

To be in close quarters with Haven, who served in the Navy in both the Atlantic and Pacific; Willard, who shot down a Nazi fighter plane as a B-17 gunner and was shot down himself; Gale, who piloted a B-29 over Europe; and Frank, who served in the merchant marine with assignments all over the world was, well, just an incredible experience. These fine fellows, all in their 90s, were among the 25 WWII and Korean veterans on our trip from northern Utah. They humbly remarked, “We just did what we were asked to do.” And if that wasn’t enough, three WWII women veterans were along as well.

Honor Flight is a national organization with state affiliates that honors WWII, Korean, and Vietnam War veterans by providing no-cost travel opportunities and tours to visit the memorials built in their honor in our nation’s capital.

During the 2015 legislative session, Rep. Brad Dee, R-South Ogden, challenged us to make contributions to Utah Honor Flight. As legislators, we love and honor our veterans and have many opportunities to recognize them and this seemed like another good one. I’m glad I could write a check.

We raised almost $40,000 and were then invited to become a guardian or escort on the Utah House of Representatives Honor Flight Sept. 17-19. Over the course of a few years, Utah Honor Flight has taken over 600 veterans to Washington, D.C. but with 8,000 living WWII veterans, there are still many in Utah who haven’t had the experience. Time is obviously of the essence.

We gathered at the state Capitol for our send off and were escorted by the Utah Highway Patrol on Utah National Guard buses to the airport. Once there, each veteran was seated in a wheelchair, whether they needed it or not, and were swept through security. After lining up, members of the Utah Pipe Band escorted us to our gate. That’s when my emotions swelled up as passengers along the concourse paused, clapped, and saluted. “Thank you for your service,” they shouted.

In Washington, we toured the WWII Memorial, which began with a stunning color guard. We visited the Lincoln, Vietnam, Korean, and FDR Memorials. Then it was to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington for the changing of the guard. That was something. That night, we honored our veterans and another 25 from southern Utah at the Heroes’ Banquet.

On Saturday we experienced the Iwo Jima and Air Force Memorials. A Navy demonstration team flawlessly thrust their rifles and bayonets in a spirited performance at joint base Anacostia-Bolling.

One more stop before the airport was a patriotic-filled visit to Fort McHenry as we participated in an unfurling of a replica Star Spangled Banner.

Finally, we greeted family and friends back in Utah at the Capitol.

My gratitude and appreciation for veterans was immensely enhanced, my love of country was focused, my thankfulness for sacrifices more fully appreciated.

What an honor it was to play a small part in this experience.

And, I took the trip for my Dad who died on Aug 1, of this year, 25 days short of his 94th birthday. He was 4F because of a broken eardrum. Dad tried to enlist but found other ways to serve and remained a true American patriot throughout his life. His draft card went to Washington and back with me in my wallet. He experienced it, too.

Think of our veterans, hug a veteran, and thank them for their service.

For more information on Utah Honor Flight, go to www.utahhonorflight.org for a schedule of upcoming flights and how to participate.