If you’re friends with me on Facebook you know that I had the privilege of accompanying my Grandpa on the honor flight last weekend. Originally I planned to just share some photos from the trip and not clutter the emotion of the experience with words, but I feel like I would be doing so many things a disservice by not attaching some meaning to what I felt that day and my thoughts since.
Maybe it’s just me or my generation but I know that I personally have never considered much about the total impact of what went down during World War II. Or how entirely messed up our world would be had things ended differently. I never knew that four hundred thousand Americans gave up their lives during that time to preserve our freedom. The way of life we now know and so painfully often take for granted. And maybe they were the lucky ones because some of the stories I heard from the survivors are not things I can even begin to fathom carrying around for the last sixty plus years.
These survivors are a generation that came together for the greater good. That rationed and donated and lied about their age to enlist at only 17. A generation that went willingly and brought back the security of freedom at a significant price. They came home and went to work. Married and bought houses, had kids and then grandkids. And they’ve since become a generation that has been pushed to the fringes. Increasingly ignored in the face of emerging technology and progress that never would have been possible without their sacrifices.
It took over fifty years just to build them a memorial for this war that they all fought, either over seas or here at home. Which, maybe they wanted to forget, just get back to their lives and start anew. Or maybe they thought little of the sacrifices they made and assumed that future generations would also willingly do the same. They are not a generation that asks for much and it became very poignant to me last Saturday why we refer to them as the Greatest Generation.
I was so humbled by the experience overall but especially by all the people that greeted the veterans in D.C. and Milwaukee. Parents who brought young children on their Saturday off and paid to park at the airport, made signs and waved flags to thank veterans who are complete strangers for their service by shaking their hands and giving them hugs. It made these men and women feel relevant and respected and it was overwhelmingly emotional for so many of them and for many of the family traveling with them, myself included. We would in no way be the people and the nation we are today without them.
This Sunday is veterans day. If you’re fortunate to still have parents and grandparents that lived during World War II, I’d urge you to ask them about their experiences or tell you stories. I am sure you will be humbled as well. And regardless of whether you support former or current wars, the state of our government or not, you have to respect the right to be able to make choices like that at all, so the next time you see an active or former military member, thank them for their service to our nation.
If you’d like to learn more about the honor flight, they are releasing a feature length documentary in select theaters in Wisconsin December 5-7th. More on that here.