As the Official Airline of the Honor Flight Network, Southwest Airlines flies Veterans of World War II all through the year to visit their memorial in Washington, D.C. year round. We’re honored and humbled to be a part of what is a trip of a lifetime for many of these Veterans. Recently, the Honor Flight Network received a beautiful letter from Southwest Customer Margy Pezdirtz who experienced an Honor Flight in progress, and she was so gracious to allow us to share her story for the Memorial Day Holiday:
I was sitting at Gate 3 of the Southwest Airlines terminal in Baltimore, Maryland, awaiting my return flight to Oklahoma City when my quietude of reading was disturbed by loud, prolonged clapping. Although I continued to read, I wondered what the noise was about and looked over my shoulder toward the disrupting sounds. Glancing between the celebrants, all I could see was a slowly moving line of red ball caps gliding along at a lower level than the standing crowd. ‘It must be a returning little league team,’ I thought. I wondered how so many parents could have gotten into the terminal through security without boarding passes. I returned to my reading.
The applause continued.
Intrigued now by the jubilation, I stood to see what was causing such celebration. It didn’t take but a moment to see the ‘kids’ were actually veterans being pushed in wheel chairs through the increasing crowd. Some walked slowly, somewhat stooped. Some stood tall and shook hands as they made their way through the welcoming gathering.
The applause continued.
Old soldiers of freedom continued to deplane and be wheeled amidst cheering flag wavers. More onlookers gathered and joined in the revelry. Succumbing to curiosity, I collected my purse and carry on bag and went to Gate B2 to stand in honor of these aging warriors who had fought for my freedom to sit in this gate and read a book, to catch a plane to wherever I wanted to go and to write this story.
I joined the clapping crowd and smiled through tears as the soldiers continued to come off the plane, each accompanied by an escort wearing a red shirt with an emblem that simply stated "Honor Flight - Dallas." I was beginning to understand the reality of what was happening and my thoughts went to my aging uncle, an ex-husband now deceased, both WW II veterans. I thought of the neighbor boy who went off to fight in the Korean War when I was too small to understand the word war, and of a brother-in-law who actually went to Vietnam instead of misspeaking about going. I thought of my two stepsons who were in Desert Storm and the never ending list of so many young men who went off to war because they thought it was the right thing to do, just as these warriors had done.
Here, in the midst of an airport on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., I saw real heroes receiving the honor they had long deserved. These soldiers are old now, tired, and maybe even bewildered by the applauding crowd, but they were quietly smiling. They wore simple blazers and wind breakers but their service ribbons, proudly displayed on their chests, spoke volumes of their bravery. One defender of our country wore a white shirt with a lone Purple Heart Medal displayed on the pocket, as a silent witness to the price he paid for his country. It was enough. He didn’t need the ribbons, the one simple medal told of his gift to me, to my children, and my grandchildren. He stood for honor and integrity then and now. On this day in May, over sixty years later, he was being honored and thanked for this service to us - to our country.
These brave men – and women – yes, there were a few – will be ushered around Washington, D.C., to the granite memorials that speak to the struggles they personally experienced. These warriors will be treated with honor and dignity and then put back on a plane to return to their own homes and beds. Perhaps tonight their nightmares of war, buddies wounded and lost, of death and dying will be replaced by dreams of a grateful America. Perhaps.
I saw an amazing sight today. I experienced and participated in the long overdue thanks to our real heroes. I tearfully joined a thankful crowd of Americans who have not forgotten what service, honor, and courage mean. To our Veterans, I say Thank You and May God Bless you. May God Bless America, and by His grace, keep us free.
Thanks Margy, and we hope that everyone takes some time this weekend to reflect upon the true meaning of Memorial Day.