Honor Flight Veteran Skip Johnston

September 01, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Hi,

I wanted to share my experience with everyone from the last trip I took with Honor Flight Houston on June 2-3, 2017.

As always I get excited to be a part of each trip be with the veterans from each flight. It is a great honor for me.

We start off at Hobby Airport with the sign-in of each veteran who has been invited to attend this once in a lifetime experience. The veterans and their family members show up and are presented with their special backpacks which contain special items prepared for them. One they receive them they are then all taken into the meetup area where they meet other veterans attending and also volunteers, guardians (people who will assist them during the trip. Many of these are family members who will accompany them), members of the Honor Flight crew who will be traveling with them, and many members of different military organizations such as the Air Force, Marines, Navy, Army and Coast Guard who come out to see them off.

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After a brief time, they are given breakfast before boarding the plane. Prayers or said and the National Anthem is recited and we are off. Guardians assist
them along with our TSA Honor Guard escort thru the security check. Then last minute bathroom breaks are provided before boarding the plane.

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It is a humbling time while they sit and wait for their turn to be loaded onto the flight. Many passengers from other flights cheer and come up and thank them for their service. Tears are shed but they have no idea what awaits them on the journey. This is only the beginning. 

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Once we are loaded onto the plane the journey begins. The 3-hour flight is usually a time for short naps for some of the veterans and crew because once we land at Regan Airport it is non-stop action for the next 48 hours.

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On our arrival to Washington, DC we were greeted my hundreds of people who have shown up to welcome the veterans. There are also many people who are there waiting for their flights who join in this welcome. The veterans are usually overwhelmed by this reception. Smiles and tears are shed. It is an awesome experience but only one of many to come.

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After our brief stop for restroom breaks, we load onto the bus for our journey to really begin. Some veterans are greeted by family when they arrive others who have no family are assigned their Washington, DC-based guardian. We had several on this trip and one lucky guy got a young female Marine Staff Sergeant who was from Alvin, Texas. She was teamed up with a veteran who was also from Alvin so it was like a family reunion.

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From Regan, we traveled to the FDR and MLK memorials. The next couple of hours the veterans visited and explored the memorials ad were greeted by many visitors who came up and talked to them. It was a glorious day and the weather was perfect.

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Once we got back on the bus we were off to have dinner at the VFW in Arlington, VA. When we arrived we were all given a welcome by the members of the VFW. Then they took us inside and they presented the nation's colors and a prayer. A wonderful meal was prepared and served and we all enjoyed the hot meal. After dinner one of our veterans entertained us with a song by singing Lee Greenwood's famous song "I'm Proud To Be An American" and also "God Bless America". It was beautifully done.

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We then loaded onto the bus again for our final surprise of the night. Usually, we go to the hotel and rest for the next day's events but Honor Flight Houston had arranged for us to go to the Marine Barracks for a special parade. We arrived and all the veterans were welcomed by our men and women who serve in the Marines. Many hand salutes were shared and other guest gave thanks. The parade started around 8 PM and lasted until almost 10 PM.

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It was a beautiful parade of music, marching, silent rifle drills, and fellowship. All the veterans truly enjoyed it.

After the parade, we loaded onto the bus again for our final stop of the night which was the Hilton so we all could get some much-needed sleep.

The next morning we all met for breakfast and fellowship again. After a quick breakfast, we loaded onto the bus to start our day's journey. First, stop Arlington National Cemetery. During this trip, we also had two special guests who had come along to film a 3D virtual reality movie for Honor Flight Houston to be shown to veterans who are unable to take the trip due to health or other reasons. It will let those veterans enjoy the experience just as if they were there. Unbeknown to most of us the two men had served at Arlington Cemetery. One as a caisson with the Old Guard who lead over a thousand burials and one as an actual tomb honor guard. Nathan who was the veteran who had been the tomb honor guard shared stories of his experiences as an honor guard and spoke of the training and sacrifices he had to make. Thank you, Nathan #548 for your service. Can't wait to see the film. They also or the writers, directors, and filmmakers of another feature film movie called, "The Unknowns" which highlights the soldiers who work and guard the tomb. It is a great movie and Nathan is in the movie when he took his final walk as an honor guard.

After we unloaded the bus we silently entered the tomb area. We watched as the honor guards did their change out and we also witnessed a burial reef dedication ceremony. We had learned from Nathan that tomb guards are not allowed to show emotion or acknowledgment while they are on guard duty. But as a sign of respect, many guards will drag their heels which have metal plates that make noise when they pass by a veteran as a sign of respect. This was displayed during our visit a few times.

After the changing of the guard's ceremony veterans were allowed to visit some of the graves sites. One of the newest was for Astronaut and Colonel John Glenn who recently passed. I had visited the cemetery myself last month and at that time his headstone had not been placed. During this trip however it had been placed and many of the veterans paid their respects.

We were treated to a special briefing by two of the honor guards who came out to talk to the veterans. They told about the history of the Old Guard and answered questions. They then thanked our veterans for their service. Many of our veterans took photos with them. It was a very special visit arranged by our traveling honor guard Nathan for them to be able to get this special visit.

We boarded our bus again for our next stop. The memorial mall. First stop was the World War II memorial. We had a special welcome by members of the military honor guards. Each branch of service has their own honor guard who lay to rest their own. Our nation's colors were again presented and a member of the Marine Barracks lead us in song. After this presentation, the public was invited to greet our veterans and many took photos.

After the ceremony, our group was dismissed to go and visit the memorials of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Lincoln Memorial. We all took off so we could see and visit those memorials. Smiles and tears were shed. Laughter and crying were heard. It is a life changing experience.

After a few hour visit, we all boarded the bus for next stop. We took them to the Air Force Memorial. It is a beautiful memorial and I had never visited it before. We enjoyed our visit and we enjoyed a box lunch while we were there. Two other Honor Flight groups were also visiting the memorial. Many of our veterans greeted them and they shared stories and fellowship. After lunch, we got back onto the bus for our final stop.

The Marine Memorial or Iwo Jima Memorial. We all took a group photo in front of this historic memorial. People gathered around and thanked our veterans. Family members and friends of our veterans who had joined us on our journey said their goodbyes before we left to head back to the airport.
we loaded back onto the bus for our journey home.

When we arrived at Regan airport we had our final restroom break and headed into the terminal. Again our veterans were greeted with applause and many people came up and visited them. After a short wait we began our jurney home and boared our plane.

On our trip home many think this is the end. But we stil have a few surprizes for them. We have our final meal on the plane and then we have "Mail Call". During the time when thses veterans served we didn't have all the modern conviences we have today. The internet was not around and we didn't have email or video messaging. We had the good old mail service. You know write or type a letter and put it into an envelope and stick a stamp on it and put it into the snail mail. This was the one thing that every soldier enjoyed getting was mail from home.

So we give them that experience again. We deliver the mail from thier family, friends, and school children who write them words of love. We even sometimes have our nation's politicians and presidents write them letters. This time Senator Tom Cruz, (R) Texas wrote them all a letter thanking them for their service. This is a time for many smiles and tears. Many can't event read them they are so overcome with emotions. It is a heart warming experience as many of them had never been tahnked for their service and sacrafices. The rest of the trip is usually quite but we were again lead in song by our veteran entertainer. After his song we all prepared for our homecoming.

Now many of our veterans don't know what we have planned but we have been sending out invitations for our homecoming inviting our friends, family, military, veterans, and anyone else we can round up to make this a special welcome home. When we arrive back in Houston our veterans are of course welcomed of the plane by many who are in the terminal waiting for flights and our volunteers who are there to help assist them. But they are not expecting what happens when we get to the terminal lobby. They are surronded in love by hundreds of people who have come out the cheer and thank them for their service and to tell them "Welcome Home". We gather them all together for one final fairwell and then let the reunite with their famalies and friends who are their to be with them and share their experiences.

It is a long two days but I never tire from being with these guys. They saved our world and if it were not for them we would not have the freedoms wwe have today. God Bless You All and Thank You For Your Service.

 

 

 

 


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