Tuesday, December 31, 2013

25th Central Missouri Honor Flight

October 15, 2013 ~ At 11:00 PM on Monday October 14th we would meet at Courtyard by Marriott in Columbia, MO to get ready to take off on the 25th Central Missouri Honor Flight. As I parked my car and sat inside for just a few minutes I had many emotions come over me. I was a little teary eyed because I was proud to be a small part to such a big thing and I knew this trip would have a lasting impact on me in a positive way. Time to make my way inside to meet some of the awesome volunteers, guardians and veterans! (Note on the above picture: This adorable little guy came up to me at breakfast and said "I love your smile!" and it totally made my day.... )

Around 12:00 AM everyone that would be going on the flight (except the veterans) would be briefed by Steve and Sharon Paulsell. They just wanted to make sure everyone knew their roles and that safety was our main priority during this trip. After this meeting we went and ate breakfast with the veterans and then loaded up on the buses (red bus and blue bus... BLUE BUS RULES!) 

2:00 AM and the buses were ready to head to the airport! St. Louis... here we come! 
What was really cool was we had several motorcycles send us off in style... 

When we got closer to the airport in St. Louis we had police escorts up to the doors...
Really cool to see our veterans get the VIP treatment... 
however I don't think their VIP treatment is over but rather just begun!

It was a beautiful day as we prepared to land in Baltimore, Maryland
The pilot was really nice and before we took off and when we landed said a few nice words to the veterans about how special it was to have them on his flight. Everyone was amazing! 
(Which is why I love Southwest Airlines even more) 

The Baltimore Fire Department shot water canons on the plane to welcome us! That was pretty cool!

Here's the link that I recorded if you would like to watch it!

 One of the coolest most emotional things for me was when we all stepped off the plane into the airport.... there were hundreds of people standing up clapping and cheering for our veterans. Wow you talk about hard to hold the tears back (heck I am getting emotional just typing this!).

Here is a YouTube link for you to see exactly what I am talking about. Although it's not very long in length you get the idea of how special this made the veterans feel as they traveled. Truly an honor to be with these men and women and to see these wonderful people welcoming them!


We loaded the buses again and took a little ride from the airport to the World War II Memorial. Before we got there we saw the White House and the Navy Memorial. During this trip was when Washington was shut down. It was really sad to see no water running, no waterfalls, and really not many people. Even if this was the case it wasn't going to stop us from getting the veterans to their memorials. We finally made it to the World War II Memorial.... 

She's still a beautiful memorial even if the water wasn't on! 

During this shut down in Washington all of the memorials were shut down as well. (Central Missouri Honor Flight had special permission to take the veterans into the memorials) There was a group of people waiting at the entrance to welcome the veterans... That was pretty awesome!

 It truly was a beautiful day and the veterans spent a good amount of time at the World War II Memorial. They took pictures next to the various quotes and even their home state.

I loved seeing all the smiles on their faces. I know this trip had brought back so many memories but all in all I think they were happy to be here today.

Even though there wasn't an beautiful water features or other people here during this time it's still a beautiful memorial and one I am glad this flight could see.

Just before leaving the World War II Memorial they got all veterans together to take a group photo!

One of our veterans speaking to Kandis Gibson, a news reporter. This Vietnam Veteran has brain cancer and is terminally ill and I am so glad he got a chance to go on this flight.
(The Central Missouri Honor Flight makes exceptions to the rules when a veteran from another conflict is very sick and/or terminally ill to see their respective memorials please feel free to ask questions and they would be happy to help answer them)

 The following link up above is from WJLA (ABC 7) News that was there during our trip to the World War II Memorial and Kandis Gibson spoke with a few veterans which made national news.

All of these people standing outside the World War II Memorial really made the veterans feel extra special! Thank you so much to anyone that took the time to be here today... it meant a lot!

Charley Blackmore was the photographer for this flight...
and is such a fun guy! Can't wait to see all of his pictures!

  Next we headed over to the Korean War Memorial

A couple of our Korean Veterans at their respective memorial.

 I wasn't close enough to hear the conversation between these two but this young lady engaged in conversation with one of our veterans... and I can only imagine what she might say to him. After a couple of minutes she asked him if he would take a picture with her. 

Some more of our Korean Veterans with their guardians!

Before we left the Korean Memorial we got another group photo.

As we headed over to the Vietnam War Memorial it was kind of sad to see the Lincoln Memorial roped off and people not able to go see Abraham Lincoln sitting inside.

I always love seeing the Lincoln Memorial Reflection Pool... so peaceful and calm with the Washington Monument standing tall in the background. (In 2009 when Brandon and I went to Washington DC we were able to go inside the Washington Monument... what a beautiful view and I hope they get it fixed to allow guests to visit it again)  Of course as a group of us was walking to the Vietnam Memorial several of us couldn't help but think  to yell "Jenny" (not out loud of course) and think about the movie Forrest Gump when Jenny crossed the reflection pool while Forrest was speaking at the podium. 

As we arrived to the Vietnam Memorial (several of our guardians are Vietnam Veterans) it was bittersweet as it is with all the memorials we have/will seen. You love that they have a memorial to remember the sacrifice those gave their lives fighting for our freedom. Yet many of the veterans that are with us today often feel that they don't deserve to be here with us. When a veteran and I are talking in general conversation the only answer I can simply give to them is this... You didn't know when you were drafted or enlisted in the military if you would ever come home but luckily I am able to stand here with you today. Someone I consider a hero because if you hadn't been in the military I might not be here today. When they hear this prospective they don't necessarily agree but they understand what I am saying. I appreciate our military men and women and wish each of them could see their respective memorials.

Throughout the Vietnam Memorial you will see many flags, personal belongings, notes, letters, cards and things that students have made in honor of these veterans.

Personal effects such as a letter to a brother and the meaning behind 3 brass casings.

We loaded up the buses and headed to Arlington Cemetery... but we had to make a quick stop for one of our Seabee's to get a picture taken with his memorial!

 We stopped at Arlington Cemetery Gift Shop area to use the potty's... Central Missouri Honor Flights never miss an opportunity to potty!

Wonderful guardian and his veterans!

Our bus drivers said they wanted to take 2 pictures with Danny Spry... here's number 1....

Here's number 2... at which they yelled together "Oreo Sandwhich!"
These guys are a hoot!

Our red bus and blue bus (BLUE BUS RULES) drivers were awesome! Everyone involved in driving buses and even the police / park ranger escorts often request to work on the days that the Central Missouri Honor Flight is traveling... it's an honor for them to drive/escort everyone!

It was so funny because everyone just assumed that Danny and I were married! Danny and I shook our heads and laughed.... of course we explained that we went to school together and I married a Columbia Spry (Brandon) and Danny is part of the Harrisburg Spry's.... We all love each other and get a long great but we aren't related. With a last name like Spry which isn't super common I can totally see how everyone thought we were married but Danny has a pretty awesome wife and kids... I have a rock star hubby and no kids... it's all good! :)

I can't believe Danny and I didn't get a picture together... you know... team Spry! 

Steve and Sharon are awesome to work with! Their care and compassion towards this great organization is amazing. Who would have ever thought 25 flights???  Woo Hoo!

Danny Spry and Mike Sutton... Firefighter Brothers!
(Mike would be retiring from the Columbia Fire Department later this week!)

We arrived just in time to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Here are a few photos and below this is a link to watch the video I took so that I could show you all. Truly an amazing thing to witness.

The YouTube link below is the almost 8 minute video of the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider that I recorded during our trip.


I know it's crazy to say but Arlington Cemetery is a beautiful cemetery. It's a place of sadness but yet very honorable. They do an amazing job of keeping everything neat and orderly here.

What was really cool is that after we watched the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider one of the guards came out to speak to our group and answer any questions. Really cool to hear about how this young man became a guard and what they do during their time here.

This is Freedom next to Audie Murphy's headstone.
(Many visitors have their picture taken here as Audie was the most decorated World War II Veteran)

You can learn more about Freedom on his Facebook page.....

I wanted a picture taken here too!
(Freedom is totally photo bombing me!)

We then loaded the buses and headed to the Marine Iwo Jima Memorial. This memorial was blocked off by barriers and Danny Spry and Terry Roberts moved the barriers so that we could enter.

 This is a beautiful memorial and it's really cool how as you move around it appears that the flag is actually raising.

 A job well done!
(Please note: They did require getting permission to visit these memorials while the government was shut down. At all times removing of the barriers were done respectfully and quickly. Once we left the memorial all barriers were put back in place. Nothing was done in disrespect nor destruction. With a bus full of Honor Flight Veterans they wanted to make sure that they saw all respective memorials during their trip and they successfully made this happen.)

We then headed to the Air Force Memorial

Air Force Veterans at their memorial
Interesting to see a name from Columbia, MO on the wall in the Air Force Memorial

I love seeing the smiles on our veterans and the volunteers / guardians!

This guy was a hoot!
(Remember he was the one from breakfast... first picture from this post)
Pretty sure he thought was was silly!

I love the care and compassion that was shown by everyone on this trip towards our veterans. I know it truly made a positive impact in their lives and in our lives. We made new friends and from this point forward we share a unique brother/sisterhood. There isn't anything we wouldn't do for one another.

On the plane ride home they had mail call for the veterans. Something so many of them looked forward to while they were serving our country away from home. Many would received an ample amount of mail and some received none however on this very special flight (and our rock star mail call ladies) every single veteran would receive an equal amount of mail. A very touching and emotional moment for all of us.

I was very impressed with all staff of Southwest Airlines while on this trip. They all went above and beyond to make the veterans feel like VIP's. On the trip home our flight attendant was a hoot! Oh my gosh he was so funny.... He even sang us a little song as we got ready to land...

YouTube Video of the song that he sang for us....

Once we got near Kingdom City, MO another incredible moment happened... there was hundreds of motorcycles (including a few Highway Patrol) waiting to escort the buses back to the hotel. The police / Highway Patrol blocked off exits so that no one could interrupt this long line of motorcycles or the buses. They had their lights on and the motorcycles would give a honk as they passed the buses to get in front of us and lead the way. It gives you goosebumps to witness this...

Once we arrived at the hotel the veterans would be escorted by their guardian and a motorcycle rider through a huge crowd of people welcoming them home. Mary Paulsell would introduce each veteran and the crowd would cheer until the last veteran was inside the building. Seriously I can't imagine how proud the veterans were to see that we do care and we appreciate all they have done.

I know they were worn out. This 24+ hour trip was filled with so many emotions but mainly a sense of completeness. They were thankful for being able to go on the trip and this would be something we all would talk about for many years to come.

A huge thank you to the Central Missouri Honor Flight, volunteers, guardians, motorcycle riders, supporters and donors but of course none of this would be necessary or possible if it wasn't for our veterans..... Thank you for your service to our country!

This trip was even more incredible than I ever imagined. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go and serving as a floater (helping where ever there is a need including pushing wheelchairs) and being one of three "Candy Girls"! (The veterans loved the candy girls!) I am so appreciative and supportive of things involving our veterans. I hope I get another opportunity to be a part of another Honor Flight... it was a true honor!