We often capture strangers in photos we take in public. Open your photo library, and stop at the first picture that features a person you don’t know. Now tell the story of that person.
Several months ago I went to Dulles Airport to greet a group of World War II and the Korean “conflict” veterans. An organization called Honor Flight Network brings them from all over the USA, free and with plenty of companions, to see the WWII Memorial, as well as other relevant places. They stay only overnight — or if close by, for the day. As you can imagine many of these guys are old, and on another recent flight there was one woman, and they made a stop at the Women in Military Service Memorial at Arlington Cemetery.
On the day I went, I photographed many of the vets coming off the plane from Tri-State area (Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa), where my dad was from, coincidentally. In re-looking at some of my photos today, these two stood out, reminding me of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends, a song that always make me want to cry.
We’ll say these guys were drafted into the military at the same time, or enlisted after Pearl Harbor perhaps, when they were only boys of 18. Their hats don’t show names of ships, so I’m guessing they were in the Army or Marines. They could have been Army Air Corps, but somehow they don’t look like airmen to me.
Let’s say they went to basic training in 1941, and were then sent to the South Pacific for some of the worst conditions and battles known to man. Or perhaps they were among those who stormed the beaches on D-Day and by some miracle survived, roaming a tattered Europe chasing the German army. Whatever hell that faced them, here they are, 70 years later. Many will cry when as they are guided around the memorial. The don’t have to give a reason why, for they are with others who recall the same fear, sadness, anger, and loss that war brings. For them, at this age, this is a dream fulfilled, to see a monument built for them to commemorate their bravery, courage, and the gift they have been given of being survivors and in this Honor Flight group. No doubt many take lost friends with them in their hearts as they make this journey.
After the war they probably returned to farming, as many from this area did. They went back to work on the family farm, or bought one of their own. Being country boys, the GI bill may have allowed them to attend college and get a degree, something they would only have dreamed of if they’d never left.
Bless the hearts of those who created Honor Flight Network and provide this opportunity to these old veterans, as well as all the volunteers who assist during the tour. Their mission began small, when one pilot realized that an “old” friend’s greatest dream was to see the WWII memorial before he died. Today up to 1,000 WWII vets die a day, and the rate is only slightly lower for veterans of the Korean War. So the organization’s main objective is to get these guys to Washington first; close behind them come the Vietnam vets.