The Triad Flight of Honor program, sponsored by our local Rotary Club, makes its final WW II flight on Veteran’s Day 2011. Almost 1,300 WW II veterans have traveled to Washington, D.C., to see, for the first time, the monument erected in their honor. A major service project of Rotary District 7690, the trips are funded totally by donations and staffed by dedicated volunteers.
This is the story of two of those volunteers, who for two years have arranged their weekends around helping get the veterans to Washington D.C.
Jan Fowler, an independent travel agent, has volunteered for 12 of the 13 flights that carried the veterans on their journey of honor. Co-worker Elaine Dills invited her to participate, and the pair found it humbling and rewarding. Dills describes volunteering as an “awesome experience.” Fowler reflects on how it has changed her life.
My mom and dad had recently passed away. I saw it as a way to honor my father’s military service. Volunteering “was a Godsend for me, helping to pull me out of a bad depression just after losing Mom and Dad both,” Fowler said. She never expected to be involved for the duration of the program.
Early mornings and late nights are involved on the day of the flight. Other days take time from the pair, who both live in Winston-Salem. On many non-flight days, they travel the 25 miles to Greensboro to help process 100’s of applications for the flight. Both have attended 12 of the 13 flight-day send-offs as curbside greeters and returned those evenings for welcome home events.
Getting to know the veterans is a highlight of their experience. Fowler says she has learned a lot about that long ago war for America’s freedom. “These men and women really open up with their stories, they’ve kept them in for 66 years or longer…since ’45, the end of the war. Even today(during registration) our veterans started sharing stories some of their children never knew.” Both Fowler and Dills will accompany the veterans to Washington on the final flight; acting as Guardians. The average age of the honorees is 92. Guardians assist them with their needs on the plane and during the visit to the monument. The plane’s arrival is often greeted with a water display from airport firetrucks. A chartered plane, with the veterans aboard, leaves Piedmont Triad International Airport at 8:30 am to arrive in D.C. After leaving the plane, the veteran’s move through large, welcoming crowds and board 3 red, white and blue buses for the trip to the monument. They’re escorted by a motorcycle guard from N.C. The Harley Owner’s Group will escort them during this final journey.
The first stop is the WW II Memorial Monument. The rest of the day is spent touring monuments from other wars and ends at Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard. The veterans arrive back in Greensboro at 8:30 pm, making for a long, emotional day.
The entire process is emotional for all involved, as stated by WW II vet Lewis Webb in a November, 2011 Letter to the Editor at the Greensboro News & Record. Webb expressed his appreciation to Dills and all the volunteers, and those in the crowds, both in Greensboro and D.C.
Fowler expects “a heck of a long emotional day, getting up around 3 am, and not getting out of the airport until around10 pm.” It is always emotional, but the final flight will be especially moving. Fowler says there is “no need for make-up, as it will be washed away by tears.” I must confess shedding a few tears during the writing of this blog.
“We dread seeing it come to an end,” Fowler says, again with a tear. “I’ve met the most wonderful, giving people that have given so much of their time to make it all happen. I have so many great new friendships, young and old alike. We love those people!”
Applications for the flight have declined and most WW II vets in the area who are able have seen the monument. The Rotary club has not supplied details, but says their work is not finished. There are many more monuments and many veterans who have not seen them.
More from this contributor:
Inspirational Bible Verses to Start the Day
Helpful Hints for a Healthy Garden
NC 10% Campaign Increases States Economy
Rotary District 7690: Triad Flight of Honor
Personal Interview with Jan Fowler and Elaine Dills; Greeters and Guardians
YouTube: Triad Flight of Honor: 2010
Ibsy’s.com: Flight of Honor Network: VIP Welcome