Veterans explore the World War II Monument during the Veteran Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. on Aug. 26.
Personally, my first morning in the district starts out rushed and chaotic, but the panic and running around is worth it for the day we have. Ten Bruin and I run downstairs to meet Stengel and Ahmed for breakfast. We all sit down and eat pancakes, potatoes and eggs before heading out to the buses to get ready for our first full day there.
Our first stop is the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. This memorial depicts the iconic picture of a group of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima. There, the Marines of the group gathered together for a picture and sang “The Marines’ Hymn,” which was incredible to witness.
While in Arlington, we then go to Arlington National Cemetery and get to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We also happen to be there on the one year anniversary of the return of U.S. troops from Afghanistan; they have a wreath ceremony with the families of those who didn’t make that journey home.
Right next to the cemetery is the Military Women’s Memorial. The memorial is a large building curved around a fountain, with a glass ceiling to represent the “glass ceiling” women broke to get to where we are today. It is a way to honor the women who have served, especially those who had to fight to serve our country. Our group’s three women veterans on the trip receive awards during lunch for their service presented by the Women’s Memorial volunteers.
“This memorial is dedicated to all those women that have done something for this great nation,” says Norah McDonnell, a volunteer at the memorial. “I’m very proud to volunteer here because, being a service woman, it’s been long coming.”
We then go to the National Museum of the U.S. Navy. The veterans have time to wander both the main museum and the Cold War display. The main part of the museum us dedicated to the history of the Navy troops, equipment and battles. In a separate building is the Cold War display, which, although smaller, is like an entirely separate museum dedicated to that conflict.
The World War II Memorial, in my opinion, is one of the most scenic places in the district. This memorial has the states’ names engraved into pillars surrounding a fountain and pond. People are allowed to sit with their feet in the water as a sign of respect for the veterans who served in World War II.
All within the same few blocks are the Korean War, Vietnam War and Lincoln Memorials. This is the most memorable and emotional part of our day, as many of the veterans served in the Vietnam War, and one even served in the Korean War.
The Korean War Memorial consists of a long wall with etchings of soldiers and depictions of the battle. Across the pathway is a field of 19 soldier statues, numbered to depict the different branches of the military.
Bill Sensor, the only veteran on this trip who served in the Korean War, shares the hardships of fighting there and how being at that memorial brought back all these feelings. “It was like an anthill coming at you – never ending. Never ending … [Those soldiers] were all lost forever, lost forever.”
We then head to the Vietnam War Memorial, which is a 246 foot long wall, with 58,318 names of the soldiers who died fighting in the war engraved on it. The veterans are able to look for names of those they knew and paid their respects.
“I’d never been to the wall. That was heavy duty, but I had back up,” says Adgu.
After the Vietnam War, Ralph Hayford received a metal bracelet of a soldier he did not know. The bracelet belonged to a man named Floyd Warren Olsen, who was M.I.A. for some time during the Vietnam War and, after not being found, was declared dead. Although Hayford doesn’t know this man, he brought his bracelet with on this trip, finds Olsen’s name on the wall, and leaves the bracelet there as a sign of respect.
From there, the Lincoln Memorial is just a short walk. People are given the chance to climb up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or take the elevator as needed, to see it up close. This is a chance for everyone to chat, relax and take pictures.
Back at the hotel that night, after dinner, many veterans gather in the bar area to chat and spend some more time together. Ten Bruin, Ahmed, Stengel and I sit at a table towards the back of the restaurant area and continue our work. It ends up being another late night, but we are all happy, and enjoying our time in the district.