As we started to think about Memorial Day, we couldn’t help but focus on Southwest’s relationship with Honor Flight, whose mission is to transport America’s Veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends. As the Official Commercial Airline of Honor Flight Network, Inc., Southwest provides transportation for 1,000 veterans annually. Many of our Employees have embraced Honor Flight and volunteer for the organization in various ways. Over the Memorial Day weekend, we will honor our Veterans and showcase how our Employees are supporting Honor Flight as they share their photos and stories.
Lynnie Gustafson, Flight Attendant:
Lynnie and one Honor Flight Customer/Hero.
I am based in Oakland and our military is my passion. I found a turn in "flight attendant giveaway" out of Chicago, a turn to Dulles and then the flight back would be a full Honor Flight. I was so excited about being able to fly an Honor Flight, I contacted Elise May in Dallas, and asked her if they had any decorations we could use for our Honor Flight. Elise was so sweet, she got permission and money to go buy decorations for the airplane and sent them out to me in Oakland before the flight. (Thank you Elise May.)
When we arrived in Dulles, the three of us decorated the airplane with red, white, and blue, God Bless America signs and the patriotic SWA hearts that we use for all military occasions. I had a moment where I could go up to the boarding area to observe our World War II heroes enjoying themselves. They were entertained … The Andrew Sisters, (three ladies that sang beautifully), and they had some swing music going, asking the soldiers to dance with them. That's where I met the oldest soldier on this flight, George, who was 103 years old.
Each World War II Veteran had an escort, and we had a totally 100 percent full flight. After our first round of service, three gentlemen that were heading up the flight had two backpacks full of mail. They came up front to use the microphone and did mail call. They called out each soldier's name just like they did back in the war. Each envelope contained letters from family, relatives, church, friends, and old pictures. There was not a dry eye on the plane.
As we are coming back into Chicago MDW, at 10,000 feet, they all started to sing “God bless America."
I was able to have quite a few conversations with the World War II Vets on the plane, and they were amazing. So much history on that airplane, that will never be told. But at least, these heroes, finally got their "Welcome Home.” Our plane was met by the Chicago Fire Department, which did the water spray over the airplane. After we parked and opened the door, the firemen came up the stairs to help each of our Veterans off the plane. When a Veteran would come to the door to exit the airplane, the firemen would say "ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce and say thank you to George"... (each Veteran introduced by name). It was so beautiful. There was a group of cadets in the jetway that had the wheelchairs, and they saluted each and every Veteran. Each one was called by name and thanked for their service. And that was just the beginning.
We were parked at Gate 1 at Chicago Midway, and from Gate 1 all the way down the stairs and through baggage claim were high school bands, students, friends, relatives, three different bagpipe bands, grandchildren, church groups—I’ve never seen such an amazing parade honoring each and every World War II Veteran on that flight. The applause and thank yous for their service, it was just beautiful.
I made my way through the parade, with tears running down my face and a great big huge smile in my heart. I was experiencing history. I was among true heroes. That flight will truly go down as my "best flight ever" at Southwest Airlines. I would fly an Honor Flight every single flight if I could.
P.S. ... My dad, James J, McPhee, was on an Honor Flight out of West Texas, and to hear his views on what his journey was from Abilene, Texas, to the monuments in D.C., how proud and how thankful he was to be a part of an Honor Flight.
Bernie McCrum, Flight Attendant:
After working two Honor Flights my husband Vinny and I became involved in The Screaming Eagle Honor Flight hub in Clarksville, TN. Vinny as the Veteran's Coordinator, and me as a volunteer. We would gather the mail from their families for me to deliver on the flights and I would make small pillows for them to keep. In September of 2015 I had the fortune to escort a WWII Army Air Forces Veteran named Sam as his guardian. It's an experience I will never forget!
If you know a WWII, Korean or Vietnam War vet who has not had the opportunity to participate in an Honor Flight, please contact your local Honor Flight for details of how to make that happen or visit https://www.honorflight.org