Honor Thy Father
It was a busy day. Our group had left very early in the morning, and we had been on the road all day visiting the memorials and sights in our nation’s capital. Now, we were returning home on the last flight of the evening to Buffalo International Airport. We departed the plane and were met by the Buffalo Firefighters Bagpipe Marching Band dressed in full regalia, including Scottish kilts and plaid uniforms, along with a full complement of drummers and flag bearers. The band and color guard led the way through the airport terminal and as we passed through the final gate, we were greeted with thunderous applause from a crowd of several hundred smiling, cheering, flag-waving people. People had come out on this chilly October evening to welcome home a bunch of eighty- and ninety-year-old men, many of whom were total strangers to them.
What brought out such a crowd so late on a Saturday night? You see, this was no ordinary tour group returning from a sightseeing day in Washington, DC. This was a group of wartime veterans taking part in a Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight. Honor Flight is a nationwide program that brings veterans to Washington for a day to thank them for their service to our country. The crowd in Buffalo came to give a long overdue and well-deserved Welcome Home to this group of forty-five World War II and Korean War veterans.
I was so very proud to make this trip as the designated “guardian” for my dad, who was one of these unsung heroes. Seventy or so years ago, these young men, who like my dad were fresh out of high school, went off to fight a war across the ocean, with no assurance they would ever come home. They did their duty simply because it had to be done. Those that did return came home to no great fanfare, never expecting or asking for praise or honors. Most went on to live quiet, ordinary lives. They raised families and watched their children and grandchildren grow up in a nation safe and secure. They have been referred to aptly as the “Greatest Generation” and I truly believe this is the only appropriate label for these brave men and women.
I could write pages about all that occurred during the Honor Flight trip, from the escort of Patriot Guard motorcycle riders who led our buses to the airport at 6:00 a.m., to the reception by current service members and the public when we landed at the Baltimore airport, to the police escort of our buses wherever we traveled in the DC area. There were also the solemn moments watching the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It was all an experience of a lifetime for my dad.
As my dad’s guardian, my job for the entire trip was to make sure that his every need was taken care of. I made sure he drank enough water to stay hydrated, that he took his medicines at mealtime, and I got him to a restroom when needed, and pushed him in his wheelchair around the war memorials at the Mall.
Of all the grand sights we took in, for me the most poignant moments came when I was wheeling my dad around the National Mall or down an airport corridor, and a complete stranger would come up to him, shake his hand and say “thank you for your service.” Both young and old greeted him this way, and it was obvious that each of them meant those words from the depths of their hearts. It happened wherever we went throughout the day. One young lady even went so far to give him a peck on the cheek! She caught my dad by surprise but I could tell that he loved it. These spontaneous expressions of gratitude at first surprised me, but as the day went on, it seemed so natural and it filled me with a sense of hope in the pure goodness of people.
Back at the Buffalo airport at the end of the day, as I pushed my dad through the crowd greeting the vets, I noticed a little girl, perhaps about six or seven years old, being gently encouraged by her father. Somewhat hesitantly, she walked up to my dad with bright eyes and a beautiful smile, handed him a small American flag, and simply said “thank you.” Two simple words, but spoken with the innocent sincerity of a child. I found my eyes welling up with tears of gratitude, tears of thanksgiving, tears of joy all mixed with a deep feeling of pride for the simple, good and honorable man I call my “Pops.”
As I reflect back on this day, I realize that there is an awesome power contained in those two simple words, “thank you.” They mean so much when spoken from the heart. Certainly, our parents deserve to hear these words for all that they have done for us throughout our lives. I consider it my privilege and honor that I spent this day with my dad.
Thank you Dad, not only for your service to our nation, but for simply being the best dad a guy could ever hope for.