Honor Flight Louisiana
October 6th, 2018
We are happy to report that our Inaugural "One Final Mission" was an overwhelming success!
Click the image to the left to be taken to our Facebook page, where you can find the Inaugural Flight photo album.
(Album credit: Jamie Grove)
D-1: Meet & Greet in New Orleans
With the pre-flight preparations complete, and most of the staff, Guardian Corps, and Veterans already in New Orleans, it was time for everyone to get together for the first time before the excitement of the following day.
We were honored for the New Orleans VFW to have hosted our first “Meet & Greet”, offering their facilities and volunteers to support our flight. The Alfred E. Flynn VFW Post 8973 is the only VFW post in New Orleans, and we owe all of its members a hearty “thank you”.
The Veterans thoroughly enjoyed the event, which included the Pledge of Allegiance, the sharing of stories, and general comradery.
There were a number of distinguished guests who showed up to the “Meet & Greet”, including representatives from Congressional offices and multiple state administrators.
We were especially grateful to have Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser attend the event and speak to our Veterans. We are thankful for Lt. Gov. Nungesser to have shown his support and the support of Louisiana for the Veterans.
By the end of the night, the staff, Guardian Corps, and Veterans had begun coming together, highly anticipating the trip to Washington, D.C. the next day…
D-Day: Veterans are called up for One Last Mission!
The day began early, with staff getting to New Orleans International Airport at 4:00 a.m. to meet the Veterans arriving beginning at 4:45 a.m. To our surprise, one Veteran was already there, having gotten there at 3:00 a.m. (he told us later that morning he just didn’t want to miss the flight!)
Soon after, the Veterans and their respective Guardians began showing up to the pre-designated meeting place near security - Dook’s Place. With an assortment of donated pastry items, water, coffee, and orange juice, our Veterans ate breakfast anxiously awaiting the boarding process.
Once a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance was complete, we began filing out of the restaurant. Just before going through security, we were surprised to find an “honor guard” waiting to transport us through the terminal to our gate. One-by-one, the honor guard led our Veterans through the terminal, announcing their names and the war(s) in which they fought.
The day was already beginning to become emotional as you could feel the sense of pride and honor in our nation, and in particular these Veterans, before we even boarded the plane.
Just before boarding and taking-off, the Veterans got together for their first group photo. You could already begin to see the excitement in their eyes.
Once aboard the plane, Southwest Airlines “pulled out all the stops” for the 6:00 a.m. departure. Though nothing was officially planned for the flight to Washington, D.C. (the time is meant for the Veterans and Guardians to bond for duration of the 2.5-hour flight), the pilots and flight crew went out of their way to ensure our Veterans were comfortable and entertained.
One of the more exciting moments of the flight came from a passenger not affiliated with the program. After the pilots and flight crew introduced Honor Flight Louisiana, and what our mission entailed, this passenger felt it his “duty and obligation to honor these Veterans in whatever way (he) could.” He proceeded to take the microphone and sing “God Bless America” - acapella - to much praise, shaking the hands of the Veterans as he returned to his seat. Unplanned, it was an extremely moving experience, and only added to the honor and praise our Veterans deserved.
Just before 10:00 a.m., we arrived at Baltimore-Washington International to a “water cannon salute” and patiently waited to deboard. The air crew informed us that all other passengers would be getting off the plane first so we could take our time in organizing and coming off the plane.
What they didn’t tell us was that they had instructed the passengers on the plane to provide our Veterans with a special greeting. Coming through the gate, we were immediately greeted by airport staff, volunteers, and passengers, and unbeknownst to us, a line had formed outside of the arrival gate to greet our Veterans one-by-one as they came off the plane.
One aspect of Honor Flight is trying to provide a “welcome home” that many Veterans didn’t receive upon returning from war. Before making it into the Capital, you could feel the demeanor change in the Veterans - from a sense of the unknown to a sense of pride and happiness.
Once everyone made it through the gate, it was time to make our way to the bus. While the trip out of the airport was relatively uneventful, the trip into Washington, D.C. could not have been any more eventful. What is normally about an hours drive became much less with a police escort! Our Veterans traveled in style as they ate an early lunch on the 30-45 minute drive into the Capital.
Many of our Veterans stated they had not ever been to our nation’s Capital before, so imagine their surprise when we made it into the District! All of a sudden, our tour guide began pointing out the White House, the Capital building, the Jefferson Memorial, and other landmark locations in D.C. The day was quickly becoming surreal. As we pulled up to our first stop - the WWII Memorial - it became even more surreal. When the bus stopped and we began unloading, who is the first person we see? Senator Bob Dole! Making our way through the Memorial (after pictures with the Senator, of course!), Veterans spent about an hour reflecting. The hot-spot for pictures became the “Louisiana” pillar, which is on the Northwest side of the Memorial.
When we were done at the WWII Memorial, we hopped back on the bus and made our way to the other side of the reflecting pool, where we spent nearly two hours touring the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorials, and Lincoln Memorial. We then made a quick detour to the Roosevelt Memorial, which is just up the road from the reflecting pool. Though the past couple of hours had been filled with every type of emotion, our next stop would surely be the most humbling of the trip…
About a 15-minute drive from the National Mall area, just on the other side of the Potomac, is Arlington National Cemetery. We arrived about twenty minutes before a 3:00 p.m. “Changing of the Guard” at the Tomb of the Unknowns, where the bus brought us all the way up the hill to the amphitheater. As we began filing onto the steps overlooking the Tomb, our Veterans were allowed to get a front-row seat to watch the ceremony. With us at the Cemetery was another Honor Flight hub. It was an amazing experience to see the Veterans interact with each other, with our staff, Guardians, and the general public humbled by the presence of the Veterans at the ceremony.
Once the ceremony was complete, it was time for us to take a group photo! As we tried to rally everyone together, a group of high school students were passing by. They jumped on the opportunity to thank one of our Veterans, lining up to shake his hand. Needless to say, the day was not finished with emotional surprises.
After our visit to Arlington National Cemetery, it was time to begin our (escorted!) ride back to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. We had two more planned stops on the way - the Marine Corps Memorial and the Air Force Memorial- but decided to make an unscheduled stop at the Women’s Memorial just outside of Arlington National Cemetery’s gate to honor our female Veterans!
After leaving the Women’s Memorial, we arrived at the Marine Corps Memorial just as the sun was starting to set. The sky was overcast all day, so the afternoon gave a more somber feel to the experience. Our last stop of the day was at the Air Force Memorial brought us by the Pentagon, which provided a neat experience for those who had not been to the Washington, D.C. area before.
The short bus ride back to the airport gave everyone enough time to eat dinner, and share stories from the day. The excitement and thrill of what was just experienced filled the bus, which was filled with laughter and a sense of joy.
Our arrival at the airport happened to be a little later than it should have been, so we scurried through the terminal to our gate. Southwest Airlines we above and beyond to make sure our experience was perfect for the just over two-hour flight. We did, however, have one more surprise…
About halfway though our flight home, the Honor Flight staff took control of the intercom to announce that letters from family, friends, and strangers alike had been received. Just like in the military, the each Veteran’s name was called out. Highlighting their years and branch of service, the envelopes were passed out. It was a sobering, but incredible experience, to see these Veterans transported back 50, 60, and 70 years to near completion of “one last mission”.
We arrived back to New Orleans International Airport around 8:30 p.m., with family, friends, and onlookers anxiously awaiting our return. While the walk back through security was uneventful, as soon as we got through security there was “a welcome home many never got”. Needless to say, the final event of the whole experience was one of the more emotional ones. Volunteers with signs, active and reserve members of the military, VFW volunteers, and passengers waiting for their flights all welcomed our Veterans back with open arms. It was an experience unlike any other, and one I’m sure our Veterans will never forget.
From all of the staff at Honor Flight Louisiana, we would like to thank all of the Guardians who accompanied us on the trip, the volunteers who added the little something extra to make the experience even better, and the donors who made this possible. This narrative, and the pictures that accompany it, are only able to convey a brief snapshot of the day. The experience gained, emotion felt, and friendships made will undoubtedly last a lifetime, made possible only through your efforts, commitments, and contributions. For that, we thank you, and hope you will continue to help us in making this possible for more of Louisiana’s World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans!
D+1: Reflecting on the Experience of a Lifetime
From all of the staff at Honor Flight Louisiana, we would like to thank all of the Guardians who accompanied us on the trip, the volunteers who added the little something extra to make the experience even better, and the donors who made this possible. This narrative, and the pictures that accompany it, are only able to convey a brief snapshot of the day. The experience gained, emotion felt, and friendships made will undoubtedly last a lifetime, made possible only through your efforts, commitments, and contributions. For that, we thank you, and hope you will continue to help us in making this possible for more of Louisiana’s World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans.
On to planning the next mission!