I would like to share my experience with my father on his memorable day of being honored as a WW II veteran.
It began last year when I went to Mosinee to honor those vets that have given their service for this country. It was suggested that my father would be a candidate for such an honor because of his service by those that have been involved and familiar with the Honor Flight program. I thought on this awhile and decided that this would be a great idea. My father, having seven boys and a girl, where five of the boys served in the various branches, should have recognition for his part in history.
I thought we, meaning those that would help me set up the arrangements to get him on this flight, could surprise him by not letting him know that I would be going along as his “Guardian.”
I talked to my father about the idea and at first he was reluctant because he felt that he was unworthy of such an honor. It took much convincing to get him to understand that he was entitled like all WW II veterans that served in this war regardless of his direct involvement or position. My father served in the Navy Reserve for one year on the USS New Orleans. He was, in his eyes, just a common sailor doing his job – no recognition required.
With the paper work all done and sent it, the arrangement for his travel to Wausau for meeting those that would travel with him, and preparations for the day, we began to plot the surprise of keeping from him my involvement.
We picked him up in Eau Claire, WI and drove him to Wausau to the Johnson Hotel the day before the flight were he had the pleasure of registering in and meeting his guardian, having a banquet in his honor and getting a good nights sleep.
It was during the registration period that dad began to suspect the deception that we kept from him. As explained by him later – “I knew bits and pieces by clues I was seeing.” “When you told me that you were staying over night in the hotel with me and when you had to go to this special meeting pretty much gave it away.” “I only knew the truth when I was sent into the room to meet my “Guardian” and you was standing there holding the number that was assigned to me was the surprise real.”
I have to share this bit of the story. During the registration of the veterans, of which many of the veteran’s daughters were guardians, the register without looking up heard my father’s name and going down the list asked if this was his daughter going with him, as my name is Terry. Having said that she looked up and saw me standing there – ouch!. Now, my father and I look very much alike, despite our age difference and throughout the day many persons whom saw us asked, “Are you brothers?” My father always replied, “No this is my daughter.” At the end of the affair, he informed me that he would never let me live this down. I am sure he won’t as he still tells this part of the trip to everyone that asks how it was.
To make a condensed version of this experience – We flew out of Mosinee, WI in a group to WashingtonD.C. to be greeted by a “fan-fair” of welcome home recipients. We boarded buses and went to the WWII Memorial were a group picture was taken. A short trip by bus through downtown WashingtonD.C. with a commentator explaining many of the sights out the windows was provided. The next stop was the Korean Memorial where many pictures were taken of the statues and sights. My father’s brother fought in Korea and was amazed at the Memorials that were erected for all veterans in WashingtonD.C. We walked and talked through the Nurses Monument, The Three Soldiers Monument, The Vietnam Wall, ending at the Lincoln Memorial, taking pictures as we went. Then off to the Air Force Memorial and finally the Arlington Cemetery, were we saw the changing of the guard at the Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers. As impressive as all this was, what impressed us the most was the six acres of grave markers that filled the rolling hills of Arlington Cemetery. This was the emotional sadness and reflective time we spent together, thinking of the loss for preservation of peace in the world and the American way of life. The final monument that we stopped at was the Iwo Jima Memorial, which was most impressive in Washington D.C. at sun set time.
After a full day of walking and pushing my dad in a wheelchair, it was time for the flight home. Aboard the plane, military mail-call was made and each veteran received letters from home (friends, relatives, children and organizations) giving thanks for their service. My father was surprised and confused as he didn’t know how the organization knew about his sister in Florida, which he got a letter from. I had to tell him that we requested various people to write without his knowledge.
Upon arrival back in Mosinee, the vets were met by a band, honor guards from various organizations, wives and various relatives – the community at large. My father said, “Damn, half the city is here.” This is something he never expected or received when he returned to the States in the past.
Before leaving Reagan International Airport in Washington D.C., I said to my father, “Is there any last words you would like to say to Washington before we go?” His reply was, “Goodbye.”
In brief, his attitude and emotional state of mind was changed by this experience and he was looking forward to seeing the twenty-eight pictures that he took on his camera that was given to each vet for this specific day. He was glad that he went and his thoughts of being unworthy of such honor changed when he was that thousands of people do care.
I encourage all veterans that qualify for this “Honor Flights” take advantage of them, whether they feel worthy or not – because it is a personal experience that is once in a life time.
More pictures from Mr. Anger and his son’s Honor Flight experience, please click here
You can also see him on our Veteran Tribute page