The Greatest Honor…

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The excitement of travel is rooted to anticipation and excitement of the unknown. We never know what’s in store heading to our destination. Recently, while going on a trip, I got the surprise of my life before ever leaving the airport. Walking to my departure gate, there they were, lined in formation — all in wheelchairs.

Lined up at BWI airport, the WWII veterans wait for their plane home to NM.

Here’s SSgt. Dennis Ferk representing Normandy during a ceremony in Wash., D.C.

Honor Flight?

Wearing red polo shirts, with most proudly displaying military ball caps of the various units and outfits, this band of brothers all served during WWII. It was 7th, June, the day after the 75th Anniversary of D-day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, and perhaps the most important invasion as well.

These WWII combat veterans were heading home after visiting the WWII Memorial, followed by festivities in Wash., D.C., where they were honored, acknowledged and pampered, as well they should have!

Called Honor Flights, these humble veterans are escorted to various ceremonies across the country where they are honored and thanked for their service. I look at the flight in a slightly different way, for it is we who have the honor to share an airplane, let alone the very air we breathe, with these WWII soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen who saved our Country.

Here’s SSgt. Dennis Ferk and his assister, Gilbert Martinez.

Here’s Tank and SSgt. Dennis Ferk in his original issue dress uniform.

Uniform Dress Code?

One gentleman in particular catches my eye, as he’s in his full dress uniform, complete with medals. I wait my turn to talk with him and tell him I’d be honored to get a picture with him. His assister, Gilbert Martinez, offers to take the picture of us together, but not before the Staff Sgt. tells us to wait.

Gripping the arms of his wheelchair, he pushes himself up on tired 98-year-old legs, gains his balance and say’s, “Now you can take it! I don’t want to disgrace the uniform!” This is what we call grit.

His name is Staff Sgt. Dennis Ferk. He’s earned a Bronze Star and two purple hearts among his chest of medals. He was in the Americal Division of the Army.

SSgt. Ferk keeps an eye on the crowd.

Everyone wanted pictures taken with these great men!

Guadalcanal

During WWII the Americal Division served in the Pacific theatre, fighting in such places as Guadalcanal, alongside a Marine Division, 13, October,1942. The Americal Division was the first U.S. Army unit to conduct an offensive combat operation in late 1942. The Americal Division relieved the Marine Division, my friend wrote about his “pap” being in — https://americanhandgunner.com/exclusives/sifting-through-social-media/

The Americal Division spent over 600 days in combat during this time. Staff Sgt. Dennis Ferk lost sight in his left eye from an explosion. The Army wanted to discharge him, but allowed him to sell war bonds stateside, still contributing anyway he could, until the end of the war.

Here’s the reception at the Albuquerque airport.

Water Salute/Airport Applause

The veterans were rightfully seated at the front of the plane, in their place of honor. Taxiing to our terminal, the airport fire department welcomes our plane with a gushing water salute, arcing water over the plane from both sides.

We mere mortal passengers are told to exit first, as getting the needed wheelchairs would take time for the men being honored.

After exiting the plan and entering the airport, I was stunned! Just inside the airport were young soldiers waiting with wheelchairs for these wonderful warriors. As I made my way to baggage claim, the walls were lined with people holding signs of “Thanks,” flags, cheering and clapping for the return of their senior soldiers.

Here’s our plane going under the water salute from the fire trucks.

Chilling Effect

As I continued to walk, goose bumps and a chill run up my spine. Choked by emotion, while trying to contain myself, my eyes betray me as tears run down my cheeks. This is absolutely unbelievable to be witnessing such an outpouring of appreciation for the men responsible for saving our country during a volatile and vulnerable period.

Proud of the “Greatest Generation” I’m equally proud of those who showed up to display their thanks and appreciation. They were all there, from every age-bracket, from people their own age, middle-aged middling’s, young adults, boy scouts and cub scouts — they were there.

I’m as skeptical as they come, but I was relieved and surprised to see such a display for these WWII veterans. Sadly, within the next 10 years they will be gone, the “Greatest Generation”, the men and women who saved a nation.

Being escorted down “Appreciation Ally” to pick up their luggage.
The whole experience was very touching and emotional.

Give Thanks!

If you’re fortunate enough to bump into one of these veterans, thank them, for what they’ve done. It was an honor to do so, and I just wanted to share with you a very special moment in my life, one I got to experience, and will never forget, by being on an Honor Flight.

A true honor — for me — indeed.

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