Forward by Susan Nieman… My dad, Joel, participated in the Southeast Florida Honor Flight on Oct. 28, 2017. This is an account of his very long, exhausting, exciting and memorable day.
About 18 months ago a gentleman approached me at our Delray Beach, Florida, Veterans Administration (VA) Clinic asking if I was a Korean War Vet. I responded affirmatively, and he asked if I would be interested in doing an Honor Flight to Washington DC. I also responded with a yes, and filled out some papers for him describing my military time and statistics.
That Honor Flight Day happened on October 28, 2017, and became one of the best days of my life.
The day started at 3:20 a.m. when my chaperone, Eric Goldmann, picked me up, and we headed to the Delray VA. When we arrived, there were fire trucks, ambulances, police on motorcycles and about 100 people thanking us for our service. We proceeded to Interstate 95 with a police motorcycle escort bypassing traffic lights. On the interstate, on all of the overpasses, fire trucks flashed their lights, honoring us and our journey. At the airport, we were guided to an area where we all received nametags and wheel chairs if we desired them. We were escorted to security and merely showed our picture IDs and bypassed TSA completely. At the gate, there were decorations, flags, and everyone made us feel special.
We boarded the plane and took off at 6 a.m. During our taxi out, the fire trucks gave us a fire hose salute by hosing down the plane on both sides.
They served us breakfast and coffee, tea or soft drinks. The flight was about two hours and the weather was great, no bumps during the entire flight. When we arrived at the DC terminal, we witnessed decorations and many people shaking our hands and thanking us for our service.
We were guided onto four buses. I was on the green bus, which was always the third one.
There were 80 veterans, 80 chaperones and 40 administrators and service staff – a group of 200-strong entering our nation’s Capital. Again, a police escort bypassed traffic lights and traffic taking us to our first destination, Arlington National Cemetery. We visited Audie Murphy’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where we watched the changing of the guard. I took a video of the entire event.
After the Cemetery, we visited the Knights of Columbus – again – with police escort, bypassing all DC traffic and lights.
They hosted a luncheon for us served by Girl and Boy Scouts and volunteers. There were hundreds of people lined up making an aisle for us all wanting to shake our hands and thanking us for our service. They had a multi-branch of Service Honor Guard. There was a flag ceremony, Allegiance to the Flag, and a retiring Army Master Sergeant who sang the Star-Spangled Banner for us. He had sung over 2000 times for the Army, and this was his last in-service song.
One of the men’s wives, a Japanese lady, played the violin, and playing all the Armed Services Battle Hymns.
After lunch we went through another bunch of hundreds of people lined up to see, greet and shake our hands as we were wheeled out to the buses. We then visited the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnamese War Memorial.
Eric wheeled me to all of them, which were all around the Washington Monument, the Reflection Pool and the Lincoln Memorial. I took many pictures and so did the Honor Flights’ photographer. Hopefully, we will get those soon, and I will share them.
We boarded our buses back to the airport and were again showered by people thanking us for our service. The airport fire trucks gave us another water cannon salute by showering the plane on both sides.
We ate dinner on the plane. The weather nearing Florida was terrible, so we bounced around a lot. During the flight, they announced that, as we had a mail call while serving, that they were going to do a mail call for us as well. They called our names and delivered a large envelope to each of us, which was totally unexpected. In my envelope were letters from my children and my grandchildren that brought me to tears.[Previous to the flight] They contacted my family and all the Veterans families via a next of kin not living with you that they asked for in advance. What a wonderful thing and day for us old guys.
Upon arrival at Palm Beach County Airport there were people all around. We gathered in the main lobby area for a service with flags, decorations, singers and a bagpipe band. There were thousands of people greeting us and shaking our hands. What a warming tribute to us, and the patriotic people of our great USA.
I will never forget this wonderful day in my life as long as I shall live. I was so proud to have served our country, and so proud to be in this group that was honored.
Joel Heitner 464-73-09 US Navy AT2 CA (combat air crewman)