On a Sunday morning in our nation’s capital, amid the hustle and bustle of Washington’s Reagan National Airport, Coast Guard reservists from Sector Baltimore eagerly await a group of American heroes to arrive.
Cheering breaks out; veterans from World War II and the Korean War, flown in on an Honor Flight from Orlando, Fla., were in sight.
Twenty-five Coast Guard members clapped and cheered with flag-waving members of the public for a surprise welcome to the men who were making their first journey to Washington, D.C.
“This was the most wonderful thing, it just brought tears to our eyes, to think that you would all take the time out of your busy schedules to spend time with us,” said Donald Schneider, a World War II Army veteran.
A retired staff sergeant, Schneider, who served in Normandy and northern France, was especially glad to see the younger members of the Coast Guard.
“We were that same age when we traveled through our journey, and they’re beginning their journey,” he said. “I hope that their journey in many ways will be beneficial to them and not as chaotic as we endured.”
For his part, representing the newest in the Coast Guard, Seaman Robert Hunter, fresh out of boot camp, said he was glad to meet and pay tribute to the American heroes.
“It was an honor to be able to greet everyone that served before us, just to see the smile on their faces as they came down the aisle, it was great,” said Hunter.
The Honor Flight Network brings senior veterans to Washington free of charge to see, for the first time, the monuments for the wars they fought in, with priority given to veterans from World War II and veterans who are terminally ill. Most of the veterans on the flight were from World War II.
Lt. Jennifer Osetek, who helped organize the Coast Guard participation with Lt. Casey Johnson, said Coast Guard members are very interested in doing more Honor Flights.
“It’s a great way for us to interact with the veterans from the different services, and for us to be able to reach out to the veterans of past wars and say thank you,” said Osetek.
“It’s also important that people appreciate the contribution that the Coast Guard makes because often the Coast Guard is overlooked,” she said. “This is a good way for people to appreciate the sacrifices that Coast Guard veterans make as well.”
The Honor Flight volunteers were all smiles when they talked about the Sunday morning welcoming ceremony.
“This Coast Guard contingent is the largest single service group I have ever seen here for the honor flight,” said Navy Vietnam War veteran Bob Beebe, who volunteers at Reagan for the Honor Flight Network.
Such a show by the military is important, he said. “We want the senior veterans to see that they’re still remembered by their younger brothers and sisters.”
Lt. Tara Collins spoke with a World War II veteran who was crying as he remembered the friends who didn’t make it home with him. That brought back memories of her time in Iraq, she said, and she was able to bond with him.
It is important to honor all veterans, she said, and give that same respect to the next generation of veterans, from the Korean War and the Vietnam War, who will be making the journey to Washington.
“It’s an amazing experience,” said Collins, who has welcomed a number of Honor Flights.
“It gives me chills every time I do it. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s truly an honor to be able to welcome these gentlemen who are coming here for the first time,” she said.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Cady Spraul, an operations specialist, said it is important to come out and show the veterans how much their service means to the country. Welcoming them like this means so much to them, she said.
“This is the second time I’ve done an Honor Flight,” she said. “It is so touching to be able to honor them when they’re coming to do this flight that’s special for them.”
The greatest thing, said Seaman Danny Shanahan, is being able to put on the Coast Guard uniform and show respect for the members who have served in the decades past.
“I’m just glad I could do this, to show my pride of the nation,” he said.