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Pearl Harbor Day: Honoring our WWII Veterans

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and my father is a veteran of World War II.  When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, my Dad was 18 years old; two years later he enlisted in the Navy.  Many young men and women of that age are referred to as the “greatest generation,” and I’m proud of the four World War II Veterans from my family who served in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and proud of my husband who later served in Germany during the Vietnam War. 

This past November on Veterans Day, my father and my husband got to do something very special and memorable.  My husband, John, accompanied my dad, Frank, as his Guardian on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to see the war memorials.  These trips are deeply meaningful experiences for both the Veteran and Guardian, who accompanies the Veteran to assist him or her throughout the trip.  Honor Flights provide both the Veteran and grateful citizens the opportunity to express deep gratitude for their service.  In 2009, Southwest became the official commercial carrier of The Honor Flight Network with the privilege of providing approximately 70,000 World War II Veterans the opportunity to visit the memorials in our nation’s capital.

Below is my husband’s account of serving as dad’s Guardian on his Honor Flight on Veterans Day, November 11, 2011:

First of all, my deepest appreciation should be stated for Southwest Airlines and their commitment to the Honor Flight program.  Frank was truly speechless when he learned that I would accompany him at no cost to him on his Honor Flight and that Southwest had played a vital role in those plans.

He was so excited the days before the flight, asking me lots of questions about what to pack and the itinerary.  It was a relief to receive the letter from Honor Flight with all arrangements.  Off we flew on Friday, November 10 from Dallas Love Field on our favorite airline to BWI.  We were like two kids on this trip, both of us awed by the respect and recognition we received along the way.  We were treated like celebrities by Southwest Employees, fellow travelers, and other groups of memorial visitors, including school children who broke into spontaneous applause and wanted to shake our hands and take photos with us, offer salutes, and give us hand-drawn thank you letters for our group. 

My own father was a World War II Veteran, who regrettably passed away without the privilege of taking an Honor Flight. I’ve since heard that more than 1,000 World War II Veterans pass away each day.  Soon, there will not be anyone left to share their experiences.  I recall that my father was very reluctant to talk about his war experiences and rarely spoke of his service .  When I pressed, he would simply say, “I served my country along with many others during my youth.” Going on this Honor Flight with Frank brought to mind my dad and the missed opportunity to do this with him—and made me even more grateful for the privilege to share the trip with Frank and serve as his Guardian.

My father-in-law’s war experience began in 1943, as he enlisted in the Navy and served on the U.S. Holland, a naval supply ship that crisscrossed the Pacific throughout World War II.  Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Frank’s ship was called to port in Pearl Harbor. Today, December 7, marks the 70th anniversary of that attack, which was the first upon U.S. soil and ultimately brought the United States into World War II.  Frank told me that he “felt a terrifying kinship and sense of loss for the entombed Seamen who died onboard those sunken ships at port; their bodies could not be raised and returned to their loved ones until after the war ended.” (Actually, there are still some remains that were never recovered from the sunken wreckage of the USS Arizona.)

Speaking for myself, Frank, and the 17 other Veterans and their Guardians, including a Purple Heart recipient and several Veterans’ grandchildren, we were honored to share this trip with members of the greatest generation this past Veterans Day and deeply moved with the experience of visiting the majestic World War II, Vietnam, Air Force, Iwo Jima, Korean, and Women’s Memorials.  Our experience was unique for each of us, but I know we each came away from the experience changed and more committed than ever to share our gratitude with all our Veterans, the gate keepers of our freedom.