In my prayers, I asked God for clear skies and calm winds for our Korean War Veterans. As the skies darkened and delayed the Hero flight out of Kansas City, and the rain fell on them as they loaded the bus in Washington DC, I feared that the weather would dampen their enjoyment of this experience meant to honor their service. The skies were so gray, that it was hard to point out the familiar landmarks and monuments as we made our way to the hotel that would host these American heroes. And, as I thought about it later, it occurred to me that the weather was a perfect catalyst for them. For many, it lent a most vivid memory of the weather in Korea.
25 Veterans, their companions and staff left the hotel early Thursday morning for the first and most important stop in Washington DC. The weather had improved to overcast skies and mist. As the bus dropped the entire crew at the Korean War Memorial entry point, the quiet anticipation of the group grew more ominous as we made our way down the sidewalk. Nearly the entire group stayed together, the only noise being the rolling of a few wheel chairs, the sounds of cowboy boots shuffling on the sidewalk, and hushed whispers. Their blue Korean War Hero flight caps bobbed up and down, and as they arrived, an entire crowd of people, every age and nationality took notice. Both groups were a bit timid at first, but soon there were smiles exchanged, and then shouts, claps and “thank you’s” erupted.
Some Veterans strolled along quietly, their eyes intent on the majestic sculptures that make up the Korean War memorial. Many commented that they were transported in time, the essence of the war captured so fully well on the faces of the soldiers, their gear, and the surroundings in the memorial. Many were moved to tears at the sight of the carefully placed fresh wreaths that adorn the memorial site, gifts from the Korean people who still appreciate the sacrifices made. Other Veterans plunged into conversation with all the school children and adults also visiting. To say it was a moving scene sincerely underestimates the feelings evoked by watching it all unfold. As the granddaughter of two Korean War Veterans, I wished they would have the same opportunity. As a citizen of the Custer County community, I wished each person who contributed to the funds to make this possible could witness what they helped pay for. As a citizen of the United States of America, I wished each American could view this outpouring of patriotism and be refreshed in knowing it is alive and well.
The Korean War memorial is set up like a triangle, with a full experience including a walking trip all the way around it. As the Veterans and their companions moved along each side, it was a new experience all over again. As they rounded the last corner, a spontaneous line formed on either side of the walk way. A round of applause broke out, as the Veterans walked through the receiving line, and the applause went on and on until the last Veteran cleared it and moved on to the Vietnam wall.
Over the next two days, a similar scene played out each time a Veteran in his signature hat stopped at another memorial in Washington DC. There were requests to shake hands, offer a hug, and even have their picture taken with these American Heroes. These Nebraska Veterans never tired of the questions, and humbly responded to each thanks with “No….Thank YOU”.
As the skies cleared for our return trip home on Saturday afternoon, the pace had slowed a bit. Happy, but weary Veterans strolled through Reagan National toward the Southwest Flight that would be boarded to bring all back to the Nebraska Good Life. As we prepared to board, the flight grew exited the plane to make an announcement on the loud speaker about how they were honored to be escorting Korean War Heroes home, and the entire terminal broke into applause once more. There could not have been a better send off for these so honored men.