May 18, 2010

Honor Flight Hits Vets in the Gut

Chuck Doring served as an Army engineer from 1950-52.

I had dinner with the man a few times over the past several years. Always easy-going. He doesn't say much, maybe a funny story about the gun club or to make a recommendation about buying a car.

But I called Chuck and asked him about last month's "honor flight" to Washington D.C. where he and 97 veterans left Madison, were flown to D.C., and toured the service memorials. And I met another side of Chuck Doring.

Chuck left on a Honor Flight and came back a different man for the experience.

"Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices. We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials," reads the organization's website in an understated self-description.

"To see the memorials out there, I can understand now why other guys who went through the tour have problems talking about it. I went through it but it’s hard to talk about," said Doring. "It's an emotional thing; I just feel more connected I can't even phrase it."

Doring said, "I’ll tell one thing, they’re organized, they know what they are doing. The word ‘honor’ is really accentuated everywhere you go. Even at the airport, little kids just walked up to you and wanted to hold your hand. You walk pass them and they reach out and touch you and say things like, ‘I want to give you a hug.’ Little remarks, all respect."

That was pre-dawn at the airport before take-off. The veterans were given a plastic ziploc bag so that they could go through security quickly.

Time flew by for Doring and the veterans during the trip.

Said Doring, “The thing about it is time goes by so fast for you when you’re there. Arlington, Iwo Jima, the WW II Memorial, police escorts. Of all the memorials the Korean was the nicest memorial for me, nineteen soldiers in ponchos. We went out on a Saturday. The Tuesday before a leaf was laid at the Korean Memorial, and it was laid by a Korean solider. Even the pilots of the honor flight were very respectful--they told us when we left Dulles 'well, the tower says 'have a good trip.'' Wherever we got off there were people waiting for us—signs, patting you on the back, you name it—respect. On the plane home we got something called ‘mail call,’ they handed bags to us after calling out our names. It was full of letters from relatives writing how they felt about you and your service. Unexpected. And a lot of stuff from kids at different schools, saying what they wanted to say, made some pictures. Very interesting what these kids and your relatives have to say. More than congratulations, respect like I said.”

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