Public memorials to those who have fought in wars are an honored tradition in the world. In the United States, such memorials can be found in many medium and large cites. But perhaps no place holds more sacred memorials in the USA than Washington, D.C., which is special to so many veterans of America's wars.
But to those who fought in World War II, time is quickly working against them. Statistics say that as many as 1,000 WWII veterans are passing away each day. If those who are still with us have not yet seen the majesty that is the nation's capital and the steel and concrete memorials that honor America's fighting men and women, in many cases it is because of the high cost of such travel. Enter Honor Flight Network (HFN), a nonprofit group that provides gratis transportation to America's veterans from their hometowns to D.C., so they can observe the historic memorials firsthand.
Recently a Boulder City couple took part in an Honor Flight. Marine Corps WWII veteran Bob Musick and his wife, Stanna, were flown to D.C. and celebrated with other veterans and their companions. Spouses or volunteers can accompany the veterans but must contribute a donation of $400. Stanna Musick said HFN prefers to have a spouse or companion accompany each veteran in order to assist with any special needs.
After applying for consideration to HFN, Stanna Musick said she and Bob were contacted by Jim McLaughlin, a Southern Nevada HFN liaison, and given a travel date in July. She said when they arrived in Washington and entered the airport, "Bob was regaled with applause and cheers from the passengers who had been told an Honor Flight veteran" was coming off the plane. That evening at their hotel, they met with 19 other veterans who had arrived from other locales across the nation. All branches of the U.S. military were represented, although Bob Musick was the only Marine. When that was pointed out to the group, he commented, "It only takes one!"
Early the next morning the group "boarded a charter bus, which was accompanied by a group of motorcycle riders who would be our escort through the Washington traffic," Stanna said. "Many of the riders were also veterans."
The first stop was the World War II Memorial, and Stanna said the members of the group largely ignored the heat and humidity as they explored the twin pavilions representing the Atlantic and the Pacific sides of the war. Although she will proudly recall many of the details of the memorial when asked, her emotions sometimes get the best of her.
"It is difficult to explain the beauty and the emotional impact of the memorial," she explained. As the tour continued, the group visited the Lincoln, Vietnam War and Korean War memorials, as well as the Vietnam Veterans Women's Memorial and the Navy Memorial before heading to Arlington National Cemetery. Stanna immersed herself in the history and layout of the cemetery.
"It's divided into 70 sections," she said.
And while most Americans surely hope for peace and an end to wars, Stanna pointed out that "Some sections are reserved for future expansion," with a nod to the fact that many veterans will be laid to rest there who have died from natural causes. She said Section 60 is the burial ground for military personnel killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, developed from land that was added to the cemetery that had been acquired from the National Park Service and the Department of Defense.
The cemetery tour continued with stops at the Nurses Section, Chaplains Hill and other sacred locations. One of many poignant moments occurred when the grave of the son of one of the women on the tour was located.
Leaving the cemetery, there were several other stops, including the life-size sculpture of WWII Marines and a Navy corpsman hoisting the American flag on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. The bronze artwork was done by Felix de Weldon, who worked from a photograph taken by combat photographer Joe Rosenthal. "The battle of Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest in the war," Stanna learned. "More than 6,800 Americans died there, along with 23,000 Japanese casualties."
Another stop was the Air Force Memorial, which was dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2006. "It honors the thousands of airmen who died in combat," Stanna said. She pointed out that when a bomber went down in WWII, as many as 10 men were on board. When tallied, all the planes that were taken down "made for staggering losses."
On the final morning of the tour, the group met for breakfast at its hotel. "Breakfast was mostly silent," she said. "We all had our own reflections of the three days we were on the tour. It was an honor and a privilege to meet all the others and share their WWII experiences."
Separate from the tour, for many years the patriotic couple has accepted donations to purchase needed personal items for deployed U.S. troops. The items are packaged and mailed overseas. "We don't support the war, but we do support our fighting warriors who are sacrificing their lives to keep us free," Stanna said. For more information on their efforts, the couple can be contacted at email@example.com. For more information on HFN, visit www.honorflight.org.
Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He is the managing editor of Nevada's Veterans Reporter newspaper and the host of the "Veterans Reporter Radio Show" on KLAV (1230 AM) from 8-9 p.m. Thursdays and the "Veterans Reporter News" at 2:30 a.m. Fridays on VEGAStv KTUD-Cable 14).