Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day 466: Greater than through love and support: Journey with the Cape Fear Heart Walk and Adam Freeman

This might be the most emotional post yet...You may not know it..but that is how I am feeling. It has been an extraordinary 10 days or more in an  life that I consider blessed more than I could have ever imagined...but Lord knows it has been non stop.

I want more than anything to talk about an experience this week with a flight that I took. A journey that encompassed so much for me. Forgive me for skipping over some other major and wonderful events, but when I came up here to write, it was because WECT was airing a tribute to this event and it was welling up inside of me and I really needed to get this down and share it. So..

A few months ago I was going from one thing to another and racing to and fro and Louise called me to ask if I wanted to be a Gaurdian on the next honor flight. Turns out the next flight was going to be sponsored by the USS Gravely folks and she could ask those of us who were volunteers for the commissioning if we wanted to be involved. She had known that I, along with my honors students had sponsored a couple of veterans for the first flight and I was a big fan of this program--taking WWII Veterans on a day trip to see their memorial, literally before they left this earth! Honoring these amazing people for their service and sacrifice and paying homage to that very selfless generation.

The day she called I was actually upset because I felt pressured and I was not sure what to do about whether to say yes or not or what to do. I had something that day that was going on....but regardless I said yes. Now, when I said yes, it was knowing that I have not flown since November of 1994. On that flight to Chicago I developed an unreal fear of flying. It literally came out of no where after years of flying and I went into an absolute panic and have not flown since....but, having overcome so much I was determined that, damnit...I was going to do this...and I said yes....Oh boy! :)

Anyway, long story short..I got to go....and this is what is so powerful and why I need to write. A gaurdian is responsible for seeing to the needs of three veterans. Some of these veterans are well into their 90's and all have different abilities. It is important for the gaurdian to know what their medicines are, what their abilities are, etc and be prepared. But most important, a guardian is to be there to ensre that each veteran gets to enjoy THEIR memorial and have this experience as unencumbered as possible. Each flight comes with a doctor and a nurse that travels with it and we had unbelievably good ones, so they are the experts on those issues!

Our flight was divided into red, white, and blue teams that traveled together and I was on the white team under the leadership of Clay Whitehurst. He was an awesome leader, organized and just a good soul. He was also very patient with me (as you can all imagine). Every step of the way was done well, planned well, and done with such care and respect. Our Flight director was David Foster, a retired vet, who volunteered to do this and while I did not quite get him at first, by the end of this trip, I have enormous gratitude and respect for this man and I know that while his rewards are stored in heaven (as we are told), he deserves a great deal of praise for his sincere and honest passion for this service to these men and women on this flight!

For my three veterans I had a little bit of an issue in that everytime they would assign me a veteran they would drop out. Only one of the original assignments actually traveled, so it was difficult for me to get to know them much ahead of time. But that turns out to be ok..because I can assure you that I will know them for the rest of my life.

In meeting one of my veterans, I discovered quickly that these men are private in many ways about their service. Oh, they will tell you they served. They may even give you some details. But boast? never. Tell of awards? Accolades? Distinctions...not going to happen. And if any thrill seeker is thinking there is going to be stories of heroic battles with some romance..there again, that just is not the case.

In fact for this one veteran, we did meet (and by the way, I am not using their names out of respect for that very privacy), for a couple of hours in his home before the flight and talked extensively. I thought I knew a great deal, but on the day of the flight, he and I were walking in the memorial and he stopped. He told me that he did not tell something to many people, but he had decided he was going to tell me after getting to know me. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a small card. On it was inscribed that he was a recipient of the French Medal of Honor. So humble was he that in all of our conversation, he had never shared this. I literally had tears running down my face and I said to him that this was the very reason why I was so proud to be on this trip; because folks in his generation walked with such humility. Had that been awarded to someone in my generation, they would be wearing on their forehead. It humbled me. He humbled me and to be with him and to have him show me that was an honor.

Talk about a moment. Here was a man who was in Normandy in June. Helped prepare the airstrip for the allies in Omaha. I was walking in His memorial with him and talking to him and somehow I was called his "guardian". An awesome, surreal, moment.

So that was just one moment, with one of them. All three were amazing....but everyone of them was, in their own way amazing. In fact, on this flight I had folks that I knew in this community who have helped mentor me and been a real part of making my life here who I discovered were veterans by being on this flight. I went to the pre-flight meeting and low and behold a man who has been as instructive to me on politics and this county as anyone was there and still trying to get me to run for office! Miss M from Church comes up to in her 90's she volunteers 4 days a week at Randall Library and when she can comes by and fills me in on world affairs. She was the first person in 2001 to tell me about the dangers of Karl Rove and one of the smartest people I know. It was amazing to be on this flight with them...and then dear friend Carole's husband...he is a methodist minister and one of my veterans is an Episcopal Deacon and I told them it sounded like the opening to a bad joke...but Lord, talk about making me feel more comfortable on that Plane..him behind me and the Deacon next to me...I was set! LOL!

I am finding it hard to right it all down...for someone who runs his mouth as much as I was one of those experiences that is more "felt" than "expressed". I know that at the moment when I heard one veteran say "this is the last time I will see DC and you made it happen"...I know that you can probably feel what they felt like. To see these men at he DC airport, some of them, dancing to an Andrew sisters tribute group...probably for the first time in years. You can imagine that joy. To see their faces when the bus pulled up to the memorial and the Gravely Elementary School Children where there with Welcome signs to welcome them to the say thank you..and to meet them!...When veterans talked to each other...caught glimpses of their past in each other's eyes....and I/we got to stand by and listen and have the honor of being there when that connection was made. You can imagine. When they saw the 4000 stars that each represented 100 dead...and the connection was made. You can imagine. And then....when we boarded the plane to come back and they called a "Mail Call" and letters that had been secretly arranged by the gaurdians with the families came pouring out to each veteran, thanking them for their service, telling them how much they were loved...and then letters came from civic groups, my honors students, elementary students, and on and on and can imagine.

and we got off the plane and we entered the lobby of ILM, Flags aloft, Andy Anderson leading his brass band, the screams and cheers from 1000's as they were welcomed home heros...marching down that center end a day that began there and ended there...well, you can imagine.

I wish I possessed more ability to truly tell you more about it. But I hope in some way I have.

If you have a chance to support the southeastern Honor flight...any amount is awesome! It is worth every dollar you give so these veterans can go.

Each of those was a blessing....
Each of those who served on this trip...a blessing....
The experience...something I am very grateful for...

Oh, and by the way...the flying thing..went just fine...:) Another blessing

Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

Jim Penny said...

"I wish I possessed more ability to truly tell you more about it. But I hope in some way I have."

Not to worry. You told this story well, and did honor to those people.

I wonder if in another few decades, anyone will refer to the greatness of our generation. Well, mine, anyway. You are far younger than I.