By Mike Krecioch- Barbara Bowers, member of the Asheville Rotary Club, North Carolina, and her husband Owen, participated in the Blue Ridge Honor Flight on May 5, 2019.
This particular flight was sponsored by the Asheville Rotary Club, Hendersonville Rotary Club and Blue Ridge Honor Flight, a non-profit organization devoted to veterans.
The following is Barbara’s account of the day as told to fellow Rotarian Mike Krecioch.
“The vets were told to be at the Asheville Regional Airport by 6:30 a.m. Owen and I arrived at 6:00 a.m. and noted the vets were already in place.
As each vet was dropped off at the entrance to the airport, an 18-member Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, United States Air Force Honor Guard greeted each one with a saber arch as they entered, a form of salute to their service, each vet relishing this walk through “the tunnel of swords.”
There was a flurry of excitement and activity enhanced by coffee and snacks as the honorees were preparing to board their flight to Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) via Allegiant Airlines. It was expected to rain that day but no rain appeared—a perfect spring day.
“The vets finally boarded the plane but prior to take off, the airport fire truck shot water in an arc over the plane in another salute to the occupants.
“Excitement continued aboard the aircraft as the flight to BWI was quick. Upon landing, we noted the lobby was decorated for the vets. Flags galore. There was a Boy Scout troop which greeted us along with a crowd of onlookers, paying tribute.
Owen and I were guardians for one World War II vet and three Vietnam veterans. One of the other World War II vets was greeted by his son as part of the welcoming party. He was able to spend the entire day with his veteran father. One of the World War II vets opted to push his own wheelchair throughout the day. He sat when he needed to.
“The group of veterans and guardians were ushered to the curb where they were loaded onto four or five buses for the inner city trip. The journey on the freeway to Washington, D.C. created even more excitement when the police motorcycle escort led the parade of buses through heavy traffic, red lights and sirens blaring away. The female bus driver relished honking her horn when cars did not get out of the way quick enough. The vets genuinely enjoyed her somewhat rambunctious personality.
She took every opportunity to honk that horn. One of the vets was heard to say, “I feel like a VIP.” It was impressive to see the myriad of cars and trucks making way for this procession of buses. Some of those pulled over to the side of the road by the sirens recognized that these were veterans, got out of their cars and lingered, waving at our heroes.
“The first stop was the Lincoln Memorial. The buses parked at the rear of the massive monument. The bus occupants gathered in front of the memorial for a solemn wreath-laying ceremony. Major General Scott Smith, U.S. Air Force, addressed the group. He thanked all veterans of whatever war they were involved with, stressing that it was necessary and the world is a better place because of their commitment and sacrifice. A Joint Forces Color Guard, representing all of the armed services, supported a formal wreath-laying ceremony that concluded with the playing of Taps by a Marine bugler.
“The first war memorial visited was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After spending some time examining the massive wall inscribed with the names of the deceased, one of the veterans tried to etch the name of one of his compadres. Owen immediately went over to help him with this task.
“The next stop was a short walk over to the Korean War Memorial. After close examination of the statuary, the group was escorted back to their respective buses. Our driver drove around the capital with a volunteer tour guide who joined us. We drove by the White House and the Capitol Building. Our guide was funny and very knowledgeable about the D.C. area. We were dropped off at the World War II Memorial.
This setting included a beautiful pond accentuated by statuary commemorating all those that died in that conflict. It is flanked on the East by the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on the West. A group of women, who we called the “lipstick girls,” with varying shades of lipstick, were hanging around, giving the vets kisses on the cheek. If you look closely, each vet’s face is covered with various shades of lipstick from their actions. Bob Dole, in all his 95-year glory, sat in a wheelchair, looking frail, but greeting the vets. He was not wanting for his share of kisses.
“Founder of Blue Ridge Honor Flight, Jeff Miller, said “hi” to Bob Dole. They appeared to be good friends. We drove by the Marine Memorial, the one with the guys raising the flag at Iwo Jima. From there we went by the Air Force Memorial, a very spectacular sight with man-made towering arches reaching for the sky. It was stunning.
“We stopped at Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The guard is not allowed to salute during the ceremony but the dragging of the heel was very noticeable. This was the guard’s form of a salute to our visiting vets. It was emotional.
“We reentered our bus for the trip back to BWI airport. Of course, we again experienced the police escort, red light and siren, through the busy streets of D.C. They parted that traffic to get us to the airport on time.
“We did arrive in Asheville a bit late, more like 9:30 p.m. It had been very quiet on the plane for the trip back. Plus we were all exhausted from a full day of activities. All in all it was a great, emotional day. We all thought it was over but just before touchdown, each vet received a bag of letters from many people, but mostly kids, thanking them for their service.
The vets truly enjoyed that. Again, thinking the day was done, our veterans were instructed to leave the plane, World War II vets first, then Korean vets, and finally Vietnam vets.
“As they turned the corner to enter the reception area of the airport they were met by a throng of well-wishers. There must have been a thousand people. It took my breath away. It was surreal. My gosh, all those flags. And, the Patriot Guard! I felt like I was on a Red Carpet but a thousand times better. It was incredible. There was a lot of love in that airport.
The Guard people, all Vietnam vets themselves, shook hands with each and every vet.
“There were bagpipes playing live music accompanied by drums. Everyone was clapping for the returning heroes. That’s when I had the hardest time fighting back tears. It was extremely emotional. The children in the crowd were incredible. One of the vets was quoted as saying, “Thank you for the greatest day of my life.” Owen and I agreed that this was a once in a life time experience which will never be forgotten.”
Mike Krecioch has been a member of the Asheville Rotary Club for 15 years. His first book, Orphan’s Asylum, was a memoir about orphanage life, while his second book Convict Lake: Life Behind the Badge tells about his career with the Los Angeles police department and He is an avid tennis player and has volunteered with Guardian Ad Litem.
Editor’s notes: Background on Blue Ridge Honor Flight: Established in 2006, Blue Ridge Honor Flight’s mission is to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the sacrifices of themselves and their comrades. In late 2005, Jeff Miller, the son of a World War II veteran and nephew of a B-24 bomber pilot who died in the war, lamented that many WWII veterans would be unable to visit the National World War II Memorial.
He had been a charter member of the National World War II Foundation and realized that many of the veterans might not be able to see this Memorial for one reason or another.
Miller, a dry cleaning company owner in Hendersonville, North Carolina, started the Blue Ridge Honor Flight as a dream to make sure the veterans were able to go to the Museum—by raising $133,000 in order to charter two planes and organize the trip.
Today this has grown into a whole national network—The Honor Flight Network— with 44 hubs in 44 states. Many flights come in each day to visit the Memorial from many states. It is all coordinated by the Honor Flight Network. Originally Miller spoke with Earl Morse, from Ohio who also had wanted to find a way to get the World War II veterans to Washington to see the Memorial. A retired Air Force captain and private pilot, he began flying veterans to Washington, D.C. and escorting them personally on a tour of the sights. Soon, he recruited other pilots, and the Honor Flight organization was born. Miller was inspired by Morse’s vision.
This last trip in May taken by the Blue Ridge Honor Flight included approximately 174 people who went to Washington, DC. One hundred and five veterans from World War II, The Korean War, and Vietnam War traveled to Washington, DC., with guardians and medical technicians. The age range of these veterans was from 65 to 100 years old. Jeff Miller went on this trips as does many of his Blue Ridge Honor Flight board members. As Marybeth Burns, co-vice president of the Blue Ridge Honor Flight Board, said “Our community is certainly blessed, that we have a person like Jeff Miller who has organized such a memorable trip for the Veterans in this area.”
Honor Flight Coming Events
Join us on the 3rd Thursday each month for a Free Veterans Breakfast.
Location: Dixie Diner 1724 Brevard Road in Laurel Park, Hendersonville, N.C.
Time: 3rd Thursday each month from 8am-10am
Breakfast is free for all veterans. All others are welcome to attend to thank our veterans!
Veterans Wing Night
Join us on the last Wednesday of each month for a Free Veterans Wing Night (boneless and traditional wings).
Location: South Rock Grille 830 Greenville Highway in Hendersonville
Time: Last Wednesday each month from 5pm – Until
Wings are free for all veterans. All others are welcome to attend to thank our veterans!
Saturday, September 7, 2019 8:30am at the Hendersonville City Operations Center on Williams Street
Saturday, September 21, 2019