On Saturday, May 12, a chartered US Airways A320 delivered 93 Louisiana World War II veterans plus their escorts to Washington D.C. to visit the new World War II Memorial, paid for entirely by donations by appreciative Louisiana citizens. The World War II Memorial, unveiled in 2004, is not likely to have been visited by most veterans of that war. Those who served during World War II are getting of age and may not have otherwise made the trip. What Louisiana HonorAir aims to do is to encourage as many area World War II vets to make the day trip at no cost to them.
Well, Louisiana HonorAir really outdid themselves, because there are now five more booked flights out of Lafayette and working on a sixth. And I give special appreciation to US Airways for answering the call. They are asking only about half of what other airlines wanted to charge for the charters. God bless them...
Funny what can happen in such a meaningful way to so many people when someone such as local radio personality T.D. Smith sees a similar effort done so well in Henderson, NC and brings it to fruition on a much larger scale. I envision that many more chapters will be formed across the country.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Earl Flatt, the Iwo Jima veteran who never met a face he didn't want to cheer up, was strolling the aisle on Saturday's Louisiana HonorAir flight.http://louisianahonorair.com/index.html
He told of his life's travails, but then added, "I've been lucky. Still am. Keep smiling, men. It's a beautiful day to be alive."
He would soon discover just how true that was.
An hour or so later, when HonorAir touched down at Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C., the jet and its passengers were treated to a water cannon salute as they taxied between local fire engines.
Then, the 93 World War II veterans on board were greeted by thunderous applause and cheers, as well as red, white and blue decorations and balloons as they deplaned.
Louisiana HonorAir was formed to offer World War II veterans free transport to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial on the Mall, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004, but many Louisiana veterans had not yet seen it.
One of the first to enter the terminal was Flatt, and tears came to his eyes when he absorbed the warmth from a group of people he had never met. Flatt, who later participated in ceremonies laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, wasn't alone.
"That touched me," Lafayette's David Fisher said of the greeting. "You could see the sincerity in their eyes. Some had tears in their eyes."
It was a perfect bookend to a day that began as the sun was coming up over the Lafayette airport. As HonorAir members and others in the travel party made their way down the jetway to their U.S. Air charter flight, they were flanked by a detachment of U.S. Marines - some in camouflage, some in full dress uniforms - saluting the World War II veterans while at full attention.
Jocular conversation gave way to a reverential silence from the veterans passing by. Many returned those solemn salutes.
"I was wondering what those uniformed guys in Lafayette were going to do," Fisher said. "I thanked them."
The trip also included a stop at the Korean War Memorial, Arlington and the U.S. Marines Memorial before returning to Lafayette to an even bigger welcome home on Saturday night.
That featured another water cannon dousing, a large group of supporters and Glenn Guilbeaux and the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra striking up a Boston Pops-type patriotic salute.
In Washington, the memorial visit was emotional.
"This pulls the whole thing together," said Fisher, gesturing at the columns, sculpture and water features of the World War II Memorial. "It's got the states listed, the campaigns and the two theaters."
"It's impressive," LaFleur added. "Spectacular. And the backgrounds, with the Washington Monument on one side and the Lincoln Memorial on the other, add to it."
The honorees were weary but in high spirits when they boarded the return flight on Saturday afternoon
"I really did enjoy it," said Felix Trahan, who served as one of several designated guardians for the veterans. "I'm glad I came."