A Special Place in Heaven – Honor Air Program for WW II Veterans
Eddie Mannis, owner of Prestige Cleaners in Knoxville is one special fellow and I am convinced there will be a special place in Heaven for him.
This past weekend Kay and I were honored to be “guardians,” who escorted WWII veterans on a US Air charter flight to Washington, D.C. to see the WWII memorial.
The event was arranged and sponsored by Mr. Mannis. We were invited to participate by our friend and business associate Dawn S. Ford, president of Consumer Awareness Management, and Mannis’s logistical coordinator.
I am here to tell you I have always known that these folks were of the “Greatest Generation” and this trip confirmed that beyond any doubt.
I had the honor of escorting Messieurs Ted Schropschier, Fred Kiser, Ernest Croley and Ed Ballard. Kay escorted Ms Kathryn Robinson and Wilson and Juanita Reynolds. All of the veterans were from the Oak Ridge and Knoxville area. A total of 164 people made the trip.
We started our trip by meeting our Oak Ridge veterans at one of my favorite places for breakfast – Waffle House at 5:30 a.m. Of course, this meant we were up and dressing by 4:30 a.m. and to say I was excited about this would have been an understatement. I simply didn’t sleep any the night before despite taking some meds. My excitement I believe came from having the opportunity to personally extend my appreciation as a patriot to fellow patriots.
I was not disappointed in their enthusiasm and excitement. These men and women may be advancing in age; however, I am here to tell you they wore us both out.
Our crew arrived right on time. We then went over to Knoxville and picked up Mr. Ballard and headed to McGee-Tyson Airport to meet Kay’s charges.
We loaded the plane and headed out right on time and when we arrived in D.C. I had my first emotional event – as did some of my men – we were greeted by the Washington symphony, a gang of well wishers all showing their appreciation to the veterans profusely with flowers, hugs and handshakes. More than one of us had a tear or two and a major lump in our throats. As we privately acknowledged to each other later, known of us had ever experienced such an outpouring of appreciation for jobs done long ago.
We then bussed over to the Vietnam Memorial – The Wall — and the Korean Memorial. While most of my crew took off and went to the Korean Memorial – I later went myself – I had a long overdue package to deliver and leave at The Wall.
The Korean Memorial is haunting. If you have not seen it you must. It is a long overdue tribute just as the WWII Memorial was long overdue. Our next stop was the Marine Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard a truly magnificent and solemn ceremony to witness. Our final stop was the Air Force Memorial, the newest memorial in the DC area.
Our veterans were once again treated to a jubilant group of men, women and children all cheering the vets, handing them flags and giving them hugs as they loaded back on the plane.
And yes, when we arrived in Knoxville they “walked the gauntlet” once again – greeted by families, friends and neighbors and some folks who just wanted to let them know they appreciated their service.
Tears, my friends, freely welled up in many of their eyes and mine, as they are now, as I write this.
Finally, I felt and realized after all these years these men and women, our mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles, our “God Parents” — finally, they were being shown the appreciation that so many of us in this country have for their service.
Sadly, and yet with great gratitude, we said our goodbyes. We hugged and we knew. We all knew that in most cases this was the final hurrah.
As one of the brothers from the 101st said, “Tonight, for the first time since I came home I will go to bed knowing that we were truly appreciated and I will sleep well.”
Yes, my dear veterans you are truly cherished and appreciated.
Simper Fi dear ones and do sleep well.
Until next time.
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