Mississippi Honor Flight Takes Veterans To Military Highlights of Washington, D.C.By Rhonda Miller | Published 07 May 2012 10:06pm |
An Honor Flight from Gulfport to Washington, D.C. for Mississippi World War II veterans celebrates more than memories – it’s about freedom. MPB’s Rhonda Miller recently flew with 94 veterans who found themselves honored at every moment of the 15-hour day.
"We’ll be going through the water gun salute. That’s the highest honor we at the airfield can give our veterans. Thank you again for your service."
From the pilot on the charter flight from Gulfport, to a crowd of several hundred at Reagan National Airport, the shower of appreciation began for Mississippi’s World War II veterans.
"Welcome to Washington...Welcome in brother, job well done, man...Thank you sir, for your service, thank you very much...You guys brought peace in our time, for that I thank you."
Veteran Leon Wilson of Mathiston got a personal welcome from a couple of hometown friends. One was Elsie Crites, who now lives in the D.C. suburbs.
"Mr. Wilson was our high school principal and we’re so excited that we can greet him on the Honor Flight."
The veterans on the trip ranged in age from 82 to 98. The group included a medical team and volunteer guardians, who serve as companions. Guardian Buddy Horne of Lucedale said Americans must never forget the mission of World War II.
"If it weren’t for these guys we’d be speaking German right now. You know, it’s the least we could do for them. They went over there and took care of business and we are forever grateful to them."
The national Honor Flight Network began flying veterans to D.C. in 2005. The April Honor Flight from Gulfport was the third from Mississippi.
"Off to the right hand side of the bus you can see the city of Washington. The dome is the Jefferson Memorial…"
Mississippi veterans became part of a procession, in their honor, at the World War II Memorial. It is a majestic circle of granite pillars, one for each state, around a fountain. The veterans were greeted by Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker and Mississippi’s Fourth District Congressman Steven Palazzo.
"Y’all are directly responsible for making America great. You’re directly responsible for making America an exceptional country to live in."
The World War II Memorial made veteran Millard Smith of Brookhaven think about the long time since he served as an aircraft mechanic working on B-17s in Europe.
"It’s just fantastic. It’s almost like a dream. You know, you just can’t imagine how beautiful it is. How much went into it to bring us here today."
Standing by the fountain at the memorial, Harry Hickman of Hattiesburg recalled serving in the Navy on the aircraft carrier the USS Intrepid.
"I look at all this and get real emotional. It’s just outstanding. I’m going to try to re-enlist when I leave here, see if they’ll take me. .."
This honor flight included two women veterans. One was 89-year-old Marion Powers of Gulfport, who broke some ground for women.
"Well I was the first female chief parachute rigger in the Navy and I made chief on the 11th of January 1946."
As the afternoon sun faded, the Mississippi buses arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"The ceremony you are about to witness is an Army wreath-laying ceremony to be conducted by Honor Flight Mississippi Gulf Coast."
The honors continued on the flight home, with mail call.
Each veteran got a packet of letters from school children. Veteran Charlie Brock was especially touched by a letter from 11th grader Kim Williamson of Biloxi High School.
"You have made this country amazing. We are extremely proud and thankful to be an American and greatly appreciate you risking your life and truly hope you enjoy your day of honor. That says it all right there."
But that was not all for a day that began at 5 a.m. and ended back at the airport in Gulfport 15 hours later. Lines of military men and women, and thousands of friends and family members, welcomed the veterans home. The crowd stretched from the gate, through the airport, out the door, into the warm Mississippi evening.
For an audio slideshow of the Mississippi Honor Flight go to:
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