Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“Our Fathers Fought the Second World War”

This familiar refrain written by Billy Joel (from the hit song Allentown) came to mind today as I and hundreds of other grateful people at BWI airport stood and applauded for the nearly 25 minutes that it took to unload the arriving Southwest Airlines flight that conveyed scores of Second World War veterans from Detroit. We were occupying ourselves with the usual activities of checking emails, surfing the net when the gate agent announced that an honor flight of WWII vets were on the in-bound flight. Would we all welcome them? Would we?

But of course! Flags were handed out and a squad of sailors in dress whites formed up a alley. Everyone, and I mean everyone, stood and started clapping and kept clapping as though each of these grizzled and some stooped figures were a member of our own families. Hundreds of travelers came together and proudly gave every aged veteran their undivided attention. Travelers were wiping tears from their eyes at the incredible sight.

Statistics about WWII vet mortality are bantered about, like 30,000 WWII vets are dying every month. Just a few months ago, Frank Buckles, the last surviving WWI veteran passed away at the age of 110. Based on that model, statistically, there will still be a few more WWII vets left for some years to come (a GI of 17 in the last year of the war, 1945- living to be 110 would die in 2038).

All paid for by private donations, the honor flight contingent would be loaded onto buses and taken to Washington, DC to view the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. Then, they would be flown home to stay in their own beds. Many of these heroes were in wheelchairs. I noticed that the captain of the SWA flight ferried several of the vets off the flight. We all forgot about the fact that the plane was about 90 minutes late due to mechanical problems. That minor distraction quickly paled in comparison to the awesome experience of watching these venerable warriors embracing the experience. The smiles on their faces, the waves and salutes were rewarded with more intense clapping, cheering, whistling and flag waving.

This episode seemed in so many ways, foreign to cacophony of partisan politics and all the divisive vitriol that spews daily from TV, print media and zinger emails. For a short half hour of the day, we shared common values and a sense of pride for what these veterans had done for us.

It made me very proud to be an American and the son of a now deceased WWII submariner. I just wished that Dad could have been there.