Forty-five WW2 veterans made up this fall’s group. I like to think they represented all the men (including my father and perhaps yours) who volunteered to go to war. Gramps’ son said it best; they went not knowing if they would come back. It has been said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. These good men from all over our country willingly risked their lives that good might prevail.
This weekend Gramps and his fellow veterans were honored. Thousands greeted their flights with cheering, clapping and singing. Fire engines performed their water salutes. There were handshakes aplenty and the phrase, Thank you for your service, was heard many times over.
But the most moving moment for Gramps was the 45 minutes he stood at attention at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
It happened like this. As he got dressed in the morning, he decided to wear his old uniform from over 70 years ago. After breakfast he and his fellow vets traveled by bus to the different sites. They visited the Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and the World War 2 Memorial. By afternoon, Gramps was getting weary and his legs were tiring. He was also feeling the somber mood of remembering all those who had given their lives for others.
And then the group arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This delegation of Honor Flight Maine had been invited to attend the changing of the guard and had brought with them a Maine wreath to lay at the tomb.
Right before the ceremony began, Gramps was singled out (he thinks because of his uniform) by the woman in charge, ‘Lieutenant, I want you to stand right here, on guard, during the ceremony.’
‘Yes, ma’am’, said Gramps, ‘I would be honored.’
He got up from his wheelchair and stood at attention, thinking of those men who had died in war and specifically those who had been buried unknown and unnamed. He felt it was a solemn and sacred duty given to him and he took it seriously. Gramps, who in his regular life seldom stands for even short periods of time, stood straight and tall for three quarters of an hour. The sun cast his shadow before him and when he saw his legs begin to bend and wobble, he made sure to stand tall again. The strength of his will was stronger than the frailty of his body. He felt privileged to give honor to the fallen.
When the wreath had been laid and the changing of the guard completed, Gramps’ hard work of standing at attention was finished. ‘Very well done, Lieutenant. Thank you,’ he was told. Only then did Gramps sit down.
Gramps came home completely overwhelmed with gratitude to God and country for giving him the privilege of serving our country and for the marvelous and free life he has lived.