October 9th, 2021, started at an early hour for a group of WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam veterans. 2:30 am to be exact. This group of heroes, their guardians, and volunteers were part of the Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight (BNHF), Mission #10, an organization that takes veterans to Washington, DC for the day, to see their memorials. Due to COVID-19, the trip was postponed, originally scheduled for May 2020. Although we did not have any flights, we continued to fundraise, and BNHF made a point to keep in touch with the veterans on the delayed trip.
Right from the start, the group is treated with respect and dignity. A police escort provides the feeling of exceptional treatment, the first sign of the day that they are special! Many stops in Washington, DC, including the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial. Sometimes this is the first time veterans share their memories and service experiences with family members. People come up to the veterans, thanking them for their service, asking questions. High school students lined up to fist bump with the veterans and thank them for their service.
I was selected to participate in a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown with three veterans — one WWII, one Korean, and one Vietnam veteran. It was an honor to walk beside these heroes. I will never forget this day. This experience gave me the feeling of standing with my dad beside me, a WWII Veteran who passed many years ago.
I am told the trip changes a person within — it is difficult to explain, but I will try! It is an opportunity for healing and to create a sense of belonging, knowing they are not alone. A veteran that I developed a strong connection and bond, experienced the unexpected. Coming home from Vietnam for numerous veterans was a toxic atmosphere of distrust and bombarded with guilt. Multiple health issues plague this veteran, just as it does for so many. But that day at the wall — healing took place. When he was rubbing the name of two of his buddies, feeling all the emotions rise within him, he did not know that a miracle was taking place. The day continued, with more memorials, a nice dinner, and a trip back to the airport to head home. Again, there was a police escort and a small gathering of family to welcome the veteran’s home. After the veteran came home and showered, he felt that the day washed away all the trauma of his experience during his Vietnam days. He felt a sense of relief and peace within. A miracle.
Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight welcomes all veterans to send in their applications. WWII and Korean War Veterans have priority followed by Vietnam and all other conflicts. Some veterans feel that they don't deserve to go, to be honored — they "didn't" do anything they will say. If you talk to a veteran that went on one of the trips, they will tell you it is an experience they will never forget. I hope that you will join us, to experience the gratitude you deserve. Go to www.buffaloniagarahonorflight.org for more information.