22: A Hero’s Welcome

22: A Hero’s Welcome

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

A Hero’s Welcome

We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.

~Cynthia Ozick

“Attention Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologize for the delay,” announced the Southwest Airlines attendant at gate 12 in the Baltimore/Washington International Airport. “The flight you are waiting for has been delayed in Florida due to severe thunderstorms. We will board for Manchester, New Hampshire as soon as it arrives. Again, we apologize for the inconvenience.”

My lifetime friend, Jane, and I were finally taking the trip we had been talking about for several years. We were both anxious and excited to be on our way. My frustration regarding the delay was mounting by the minute.

“I can’t believe we are finally doing this,” said Jane.

“I know! I wonder if other people have ever planned a neighborhood reunion with the kids on their street after forty-nine years.” I shook my head in disbelief.

“It really is a special trip. I hope everyone comes to the picnic next Wednesday.”

“They will,” I assured her.

We sat next to each other at the gate. I was quietly lost in my own thoughts of the week ahead and my memories of our childhood in the old neighborhood.

Jane and I reminisced about our favorite childhood memories. “Remember the Fourth of July parades every summer that started downtown and ended at the park at the end of our street?” Jane asked.

“They were so much fun. Everyone dressed in red, white, and blue.”

“We even decorated the spokes and handlebars of our bikes with red, white and blue streamers.” We laughed at the memory.

“Our parents were certainly glad when the night was over. They had been at the park since early morning helping to set up tables and chairs for the picnic.”

The airline attendant interrupted our conversation. “Ladies and Gentlemen, our flight from Florida has arrived and is taxiing to the gate. I have a special surprise for all of you. The flight is carrying veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It is better known as ‘The Honor Flight.’ These veterans will be visiting the war memorials in Washington, D.C. for the very first time. We ask that you give each of them a hero’s welcome as they are brought to the gate area. When they come through the open door let’s applaud and salute these American veterans.”

Jane and I looked at each other in surprise. Jane exclaimed, “Can you believe this? I’ve heard about this, but never thought I would have the privilege of being part of something so patriotic.”

I nodded in agreement. “These veterans are the unsung heroes of America. Your parents and my dad served in World War II. Some of the boys from our high school fought in Vietnam. Some of them never made it home.”

“I remember,” Jane said sadly.

We heard the door open. Everyone in the gate area turned and faced the doorway in quiet reverence and anticipation. The first veteran emerged in a wheelchair pushed by a volunteer. Tears came to our eyes as we clapped. One by one they appeared. We continued to applaud them. Some walked with canes and some were in wheelchairs. All came forth with their volunteer guardian beside them. Tears rolled down my face.

I looked at Jane. Through her tears she whispered, “I wish our parents had lived long enough to do this.”

“Me too.”

We walked in silence as we boarded the plane. I was lost in thoughts of my dad. I thought of the photos of him proudly smiling in his Army uniform. Jane had photos too — showing her mom and dad in their Army uniforms. They were hung on her living room wall with an American flag folded between them. It was given to Jane at the cemetery during her dad’s funeral service.

Our reunion trip was even better than we had hoped. We toured our old high school, much expanded now. We gathered at the beach where we all learned to swim. We shared photos and memories of our childhood on a quiet little street in a small city in New Hampshire.

We wrapped up our trip with a visit to the cemeteries where our parents are buried. Witnessing the Honor Flight in Baltimore gave me a newfound admiration for my dad. He never talked about his years with the Army. History books told me what I needed to know. I prayed a silent prayer thanking God for the parents He gave me, and for the sacrifice my dad gave for his country in World War II. We left that cemetery and drove to the one where Jane’s dad was buried. She had brought her mom’s ashes with her to be scattered on the plaques given to each of her parents by the U.S. Army.

“That was quite a week!” Jane said to me as we buckled our seatbelts for the long flight home.

“It sure was, and to think it started with the privilege of witnessing the Honor Flight veterans, that made it even more special.”

When the plane was at cruising altitude, Jane turned to me with misty eyes and said, “This trip can never be repeated.”

“What do you mean?”

“It started with the Honor Flight and ended with visits to the cemeteries.”

“Okay, but I still don’t get your point.”

“Without our parents, who served in World War II, we would not have any of these memories to carry with us. Your dad, and my mom and dad, served and they survived. Without them we would not be here.”

I thought about that for a few minutes. She was absolutely right. I tapped Jane on the shoulder. She looked up from the book she was reading and turned to me. With a grateful heart I simply said, “God bless America!”

~Catherine Ancewicz

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