Behind the Badger Honor Flight
Jun 17, 2014 05:27PM
By Dannelle Gay
Last month, my 91 year old Father-In-Law went for an amazing day trip to Washington D.C. with 69 other veterans. Many people have heard of the Badger Honor Flight but don't really know that much about it.
The Badger Honor Flight is part of the national honor flight program, and has helped Wisconsin veterans see the memorials that were built for them since 2010. This is a FREE service for the veterans (World War 2, Korean, and terminally ill) and is so well orchestrated and executed that it is amazing! Roughly 70 veterans go on each flight, with support staff and volunteers.
Let's start with the agenda:
Arriving at the airport before 5:00 am to check in and get a light breakfast. There is a send off ceremony, complete with music and a few speeches. Shortly, they arrived in Washington D.C. for their decorated plane to go under a water cannon salute.
The entire ground crew of the airport was in a full salute to the arriving veterans.
First stop? Arlington National Cemetery.
There was plenty of time for these soldiers to think of their fallen friends.
Watching the Changing of the Guard was next ...
Back to the tour buses with a great batch of guides.
Time for a group photo at the Marie Corps Memorial and lunch!
Fun Fact: Arby's has been supplying the lunches since the beginning of this program. It was originally free, but as the program grew, it became an "at-cost" arrangement. The boxed lunches were VERY generous.
Back to the buses after lunch, and off to the WWII Memorial. This is where Bob and Elizabeth Dole greet the group, if they are in town.
Everyone is told to take it easy on Bob but no one told him—he has quite a grip in a handshake!
My Father-In-Law was one of the Mendelsheim Boys in the Army Air Corps for WWII—so this picture means a lot to him:
This is a very strong visual as each one of these stars represents 400 fallen soldiers:
Last stop of the day? The Memorial Triangle: Korean, Vietnam and Lincoln. The Lincoln memorial does have an elevator but it was very busy as most veterans couldn't use the stairs.
The Korean Memorial is amazing—with larger-than-life sized soldier statues that appear to come out of the jungle.
It is amazing how well planned out the day was, and every safety precaution was taken to make sure it was a fully enjoyable experience! There were extra wheel chairs, water bottles, food, gift bags, anything that might possibly be needed to help make the veterans comfortable.
Now, my favorite part— the homecoming celebration!
While the soldiers were getting "mail call" on their flight home, a big party was building at the Dane County Airport to welcome them back.
WHY is the welcome home such a big deal?
Very few of these soldiers got the big ticker tape welcome home parade that we see in the old movies. Most were shipped from station to station during their discharge process and it took several weeks. This is the chance we all get to thank them for taking so much time out of their lives to defend us.
If you want a "good spot" you have to get to the airport at least 90 minutes before the plane is expected to arrive. You will see Red Cross volunteers passing out water, lemonade, and cookies as well as a craft table where you can make your own Welcome Home signs.
Even Maynard the Mallard showed up for our boys!
With a real band playing classic tunes from the 1940's, and all the people showing up to celebrate their returns, it made for a great "royal walk" for each of the 70 veterans.
Now, I mentioned that this is a FREE program for the veterans, but it is not a fully compensated program. It relies on donations from people as well as different fundraising events like a Culver's night where 20% of the proceeds benefit the Badger Honor Flight. The "guide" for the veteran (in blue jackets) pay $500 to attend the trip. Often, these guides are family members, but not always. All guides are drilled in safety concerns from helping someone in a wheelchair to reminding the veterans to stay hydrated. They really think of everything!
You can see how YOU can help create the memory of a lifetime for these amazing men and women of service by simply checking out their website: Badger Honor Flight .