Archive | September, 2013

Pearl Harbor Survivor: the Sequel

26 Sep

I am very pleased to bring you a follow-up this morning to a blog I posted earlier this month, about my great experience meeting Pearl Harbor survivor Stanley Hawalek. (If you didn’t get a chance to see that post, please click here and read Stanley’s incredible story.)

As it turns out, a few weeks ago, Stanley was a special guest — along with 44 other WWII and Korean War veterans — on Honor Flight Mission #30.  Honor Flight is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans. They transport these national heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials.

As it also turns out, a colleague of mine at Webster Thomas High School was also on that Honor Flight, accompanying his uncle. He saw my blog about Stanley not long after he returned, and was very excited to tell me about the trip and that he and Stanley had met.  He was also able to provide me with the photos you see here.

My friend did not want to be identified. Instead, he wrote,  “Everyone accessing the blog should view Stan, Bob, Jim, Joe, Richard, Barb, Lou and the rest of the fellas, and read this as a tribute to them.”

And then he wrote a very beautiful summary of his experience, which I reprint in its entirety here:

On Saturday, September 14, 45 veterans (1 woman and 44 men) from World War II and the Korean War departed the Rochester airport with their guardians on Honor Flight Rochester Mission #30.

Honor Flight Rochester has been in existence since June 2008 and is part of the Honor Flight network which has several other hubs throughout the country.  Hundreds of veterans of these two wars as well as terminally ill veterans from the Vietnam War have gone on the two and one-half dozen missions.

Veterans, guardians and support staff are given a supporting send-off to the nation’s capital where they spend the day “to visit and reflect together at their memorials.”

Upon arrival at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI), the veterans are greeted by scores of active duty personnel from all branches of the military as well as veterans from other wars and civilians.   Several passersby racing to catch their flights stop to clap and say thank you as the veterans head to waiting busses that they will board for the road trip portion to D.C. and surrounding areas of Arlington, Virginia.

They are led by the Honor Guard on motorcycles for approximately 45 minutes.

The veterans visit the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima statue), the Air Force War Memorial which overlooks The Pentagon; the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the World War II War Memorial which are all a part of the National Mall and also includes the opportunity to walk through the Lincoln Memorial.

Honor Flight Rochester Mission #30 included veterans who defended our country at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and who also stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Following the daylong visit and reflection, veterans are bussed to a hotel near BWI for dinner, socialization and spend the evening overnight.

At the dinner held in the hotel, all veterans and other attendees rise to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and one of the support staff offers the opportunity to any veteran to lead everyone in a chorus of God Bless America……..”My home sweet home” ends with all having sung and veterans standing as if they were at attention.

Stories are shared by veterans to all those who are fortunate to hear their acts of valor.  As they are a most humble group of men and women from The Greatest Generation, the majority of those who decide to speak express appreciation to the organizers, support staff and guardians who have volunteered to assist them on their Honor Flight.

On Sunday morning, the veterans bus to BWI and return to the Rochester airport and are greeted by a throng of supporters.  A color guard includes veterans from the Vietnam War who proudly stand at attention honoring their fellow brothers and sisters.  The veterans parade through the masses of patriotic supporters.  “Thank you for your service,” echoes throughout the concourse and even above the fife and drum.

A final tribute is held in a gathering area of the airport.  Politicians unite and leave behind quarreling gridlock to also say, “Thank you for your service.”

The mission leader, who also is a veteran of the Gulf War, proudly gives the veterans a final salute and succinctly says, “Dismissed.”
The veterans reciprocate with a salute.  The crowd claps thunderously.  The veterans depart with their friends, family and loved ones.

Never forgotten.  Always remembered.  Freedom is not free.  God Bless America…..”My home sweet home.”

My friend concluded his story with the following thoughts:

Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation—and as a culturally diverse, free society. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day. Our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet Stanley, thank him for his service, and share his story with you all.

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A group of students was there at the Tomb of the Unknowns interviewing the veterans and recording their oral histories. Here, Stan talks with one of the students.

Stan is sitting at the far left in the blue jacket. The veterans were encouraged to use wheelchairs since the buses were so far away.

Tomb of the Unknown visit on September 14.  Stan is seen in a wheelchair in one of these (middle image, lower left).  It was a distance to the bus and they encouraged vets to use a wheelchair.