Veteran’s Day is Sunday, Nov. 11. Although the Navy decommissioned our air station, Alameda’s roots remain — high school mascots, the strong military presence in our annual parade, and senior citizens who decided to stay and raise families.
Did you know that every 90 seconds in the U.S., a World War II veteran dies? My father served as a 26-year-old doctor on a repair ship in the South Pacific. He watched the Marines raise the flag on Iwo Jima. Dad passed away when I was 28.
One morning at Bladium my workout buddy, Chris, talked about her father’s trip to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was also in the South Pacific, serving on the USS Harris, an amphibious troop carrier. Thanks to the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Organization, Paul Bailey and over 2,000 Wisconsin veterans visited that memorial. By year’s end, Honor Flight groups will have transported close to 100,000 veterans — free of charge.
It began when a Milwaukeean heard about private flights in Ohio, shuttling six fellows at a time. He calculated the number of living Wisconsin vets and realized the “greatest generation” was dying at about 900 per day. They had to get the job done so he enlisted a local radio station and began fundraising.
Chris’ sister, Kathy, was their father’s traveling companion. As a surprise their brother Steve and his wife drove up from Delaware. A woman rushed from the welcoming crowd to plant a big kiss on their dad, calling him handsome while thanking him for his service.
Paul Bailey wanted to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, due to the lifetime commitment required from its guardians. The paths were slick with rain. Kathy wrote:
“I swear the organizers saw the look on our faces and allowed us to get out and see the changing of the guard. Dad stood at the line, umbrella over his face, mesmerized by the elaborate, deliberate and solemn proceedings. He welled up as I had his arm and realized how much this meant to him.”
Upon return, a parade of 5,000 service personnel, bands, and saluting, cheering people with flags and banners surrounded the vets, thanking them for their service. Kathy said, “Dad was in awe and, honestly, felt overwhelmed and proud. It took at least 45 minutes to get to our brothers, Dan and Tim, and friends waiting with banners. It was a proud and emotional day.”
On Aug. 11 at Milwaukee Brewer’s Miller Park Stadium, veterans and families gathered for “Honor Flight” — a documentary following veterans and their trips to D.C. With 28,442 in attendance, they set a Guinness World Record for largest movie premiere audience of all time. Women in USO and Red Cross uniforms handed out water, lemonade and iced tea. Vintage cars, military vehicles and a replica of the D.C. memorial filled the lots.
Chris said it was chaotic getting the family together — 17 in four different cars with more friends at the stadium. The line entering the stadium was long and the elevator line longer, so active servicemen carried disabled veterans to their seats.
“Imagine hundreds of guys coming to this screening. At 85, my dad was one of the youngest! Fortunately he’s is in pretty good shape for an older fella.” He was able to walk from the car to his seat in the stadium.
While everyone settled, pilots performed “flyovers” in vintage planes. It made Chris think what a crapshoot that job was during the war.
“Fly over and try not to get shot down when you’re direction is predictable, and you’re not particularly fast! The thought of what it must take to climb into that cockpit over and over — just mind boggling.”
Tim Bailey emailed:
“You think of your Dad as one of a host of veterans who survived, and of course it’s personal because you appreciate his sacrifice on our behalf. Then you see him return with your sister in a group of 2,000 such vets who share an Honor Flight to see the monument and that is special as well. Next you’re with your Dad and family at the premiere and get a sense of the war’s impact on communities. 900 World War II vets pass away each day, and 16 million served in the armed forces during WWII. Finally, a picture of a wall of 4,000 gold stars as long as the eye can see - each star representing 100 vets who died during the war… You realize there is not a piece of your family’s past or future which has not somehow been afforded you by their collective efforts. You cannot help being overcome with emotion, awe, pride, and a sense that these men and women truly are America’s greatest generation.”
When the Baileys went their separate ways the next day, both Chris and Tim heard their tired father say he “used everything he had in his tank.” Chris can hardly imagine the day when her father passes away. “He’s just so omnipresent in all of our lives…”
In an orphaned moment, I asked if I could be an adopted Bailey. The younger Baileys agreed enthusiastically. (I hope it’s OK with their dad.)
If you wish to honor a veteran from any war, please feel free to post a comment below in their honor. We are so very grateful for their service.
To learn more about “Honor Flight” please go to: http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/honor-flight-documentary-premieres-at-miller-park-cc6bm42-165020286.html or for a link to the movie trailer, go to the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight website's event coverage at http://starsandstripeshonorflight.org/events.php.
If you want to make a donation or know of a Northern California vet who should go, visit: http://www.honorflightnorcal.org or contact them at (530) 357-3380 or write to Honor Flight Northern California, 17669 Warwick Place; Anderson, CA 96007.