Friday, January 3, 2014

26th Central Missouri Honor Flight

November 5, 2013 ~ I had another opportunity to be a part of the final Honor Flight for the 2013 year and I can't tell you how excited I was! Such a huge honor to hang out with some amazing people but more importantly to see our veterans get treated like VIP's! I was a little nervous since this was only my second trip with the Central Missouri Honor Flight because I have only been on one flight before but I felt I knew what to expect for the most part. My role this time would be an accountability person for the blue bus (BLUE BUS RULES). The accountability person basically takes role anytime you board a plane or board the bus and is responsible for knowing that everyone is on your bus... a rather big job for me but one I was looking forward to! (This was the best way for me to interact with each person on our bus... and I am a people person!)

Sharon Paulsell is such a hoot! She and Steve both show such passion and pride for our veterans that once you are a part of this experience you completely understand why. Safety is the number one concern for the entire trip and the volunteers / guardians and anyone else involved takes the extra steps to ensure we all get to where we are supposed to be and enjoy the whole day.

Something pretty cool about this trip is that we have 4 veterans traveling with us that have never flown before! I know it sounds crazy but they ranged in age from 86-91 years old and 2 of them are World War II Veterans and 2 of them are Korean Veterans!

Once we arrived in Baltimore, Maryland we were welcomed by the Baltimore Fire Department spraying water on the plane. Of course as everyone got off the plane and entered the airport there was a huge crowd of people clapping and cheering... really makes the veterans feel important! Something that makes me emotional each time I witness!

We got everyone loaded up on the buses and headed for the World War II Memorial. As you can see it was a beautiful day! The fall colors were stunning and made this trip even more perfect! The best part of this trip is that there wasn't a Government Shutdown.  (the last trip was during the Government Shutdown and it was kind of sad looking with the water features all turned off, the places where water was held either was empty or looked really bad)

We made it to the World War II Memorial!  

While on our 26th mission of the Central Missouri Honor Flight our World War II veterans were asked to be a part of a new app that they will be releasing about the WWII Memorial. 6 of the veterans would sit across from school kids as they showed the veterans the new app and how it would help them. They also got to ask questions to the veterans. So excited for our veterans to be included in something very cool and always makes me smile to see them get recognized! To watch the news story on it click on the link:  

 This memorial is so much prettier with the water fountains on! 

I loved spending time visiting with the different veterans and loved seeing them taking pictures (or volunteers / guardians) taking pictures of them. Many of them said "I have to show my wife and/or kids this place" and their smiles were contagious! 

 I wish I knew each of the stories that the veterans told their guardians as I am sure a trip like this brought back many memories. I would like to think that they see the world a little different after today and that there really are people that care and appreciate what they have done for our country.

Before we left the World War II Memorial they got a picture of all veterans together. I love seeing these pictures and can't say thank you enough to all of our veterans for what they have done (and continue to do) for our country. 

Veterans are encouraged to bring pictures of other veterans (often times family members or friends) that are either too sick to fly and/or no longer with us to see their respective memorials.

There was several Honor Flight motorcycle riders that met the veterans at the World War II Memorial. I can't tell you how happy this makes me to see others take time out of their day to welcome these men and women.

One of our veterans on this flight is the dad of a former pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. You just never know who will be on one of the Honor Flights!

Time to load up on the buses and head to the Korean War Memorial! 

A special request was made that a veteran wanted to get a picture and a get an etching of a fallen veteran from the Vietnam Wall. I gladly volunteered to do this as I know our time at the Korean Memorial was a little more limited and I wanted to make sure they got to see everything they could. (Also on this trip we had roughly 25 veterans in wheelchairs which made getting around a little easier on them but we needed all hands on deck to get everyone everywhere they needed to be) So as I was heading to the Vietnam Memorial I couldn't help but notice how the Lincoln Memorial looked on this trip. It was so nice seeing people all around and not blocked off as it was on the last trip out here just a few weeks ago.

Even the Lincoln Memorial Reflection Pool looked good!  I really love all the fall colors!

 As I approached the Vietnam Memorial I couldn't help but smile. It was a perfect day in Washington DC and to think these men and women that fought and died for our country had a beautiful memorial in their honor. All of the memorials are nicely kept and well constructed. The fall colors highlighted the black marble on this memorial and really made it stand out.

Of course in true Michele Spry fashion....I didn't have a clue where I was going but I knew I would do everything I could to find this name for one of our veterans.
I was given a piece of paper curled around a little flag. Written on this paper was the following:
Wall 36E
15th Row
Troy E Hirni II
with directions to place the flag in the wall near the name.

 I took several etches of the name and made my way back to the bus.
(Thank goodness it was on a wall I could reach but I would have done whatever I needed to do in order to fulfill this simple request. I couldn't place the flag near the name as the wall panels were too close together so I placed it near the 36 E wall marker)

As I was leaving I couldn't help but notice the letters left from students and pictures left from friends and/or family members. They say there is a huge warehouse that stores all of these things left at the memorial to use in a museum some day. I can only imagine the history they have in that warehouse!

The trees were beautiful as we entered Arlington Cemetery!
(You can even see the Air Force Memorial in the bottom picture)

I had not seen this before... near the bathrooms at the Changing of the Guard

It was time to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider

If you have never witnessed this in person and you will be traveling to Washington DC or in the area of Arlington Cemetery (which is in Virginia by the way) you need to allow time to visit and see the Changing of the Guard. You'll be glad you did.

I never get tired of watching this! I can't even imagine how much time, effort and energy goes into this position and how well orchestrated this is.
(During this ceremony I did hear a 21 gun salute... something I have only heard once in my life)

Next we went over to the Iwo Jima Memorial. I sat on the bus as several of the veterans wanted to rest. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a younger guy (early twenties) jogging/running. He looked different then other runners/joggers. I didn't know the story until Sharon Paulsell got back on the bus but basically this young man came to see his grandpa that was traveling with our Honor Flight. He drove down from Connecticut and was going to meet his grandpa at the Changing of the Guard. He had to park in general parking as the buses get taken right in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. By the time he got the shuttle up to where we were at the buses were driving away. This grandson ran all the way from the Tomb of the Unknown Solider to the Imo Jima Memorial. He was so out of breath it took him a few minutes to get everyone to understand. They made an exception to the rule and allowed him on the bus (after all his car was at Arlington Cemetery) and the police took him back to his car once his grandpa (and everyone else) got on the plane to head back to St. Louis. Now how cool is that! I can only imagine how happy this guy was to hug his grandpa!

Our last stop before heading to the airport was the Air Force Memorial.
I'm not sure why I didn't take very many photos at this memorial... guess I was just enjoying the view and watching the veterans!

 We arrived at Reagan National Airport!
When we got everyone off the buses and across the way it was time to head inside for dinner and to wait for our flight to St. Louis!
(Yes we fly from St. Louis to Baltimore, MD then from Reagan National Airport to St. Louis. This trip would take us to 3 states (Missouri, Maryland and Virgina) as well as the district of Washington DC!This is done so that we can get home around 10:30 PM rather than 1:00 AM and it was nice to see different things along the way!)

These 3 guys are brothers and were on our Honor Flight. (Remember the story about the grandson? Well that grandson belonged to one of these guys!) I think from their smiles they all had a pretty good day!

After everyone ate dinner we got these 4 guys together for a quick picture... this trip was their first flight ever! When I asked one of them was he nervous (in St. Louis) he said "I just want to see my memorial and if it means I have to fly to see it... well then let's go!"

Once in the air it was time for "Mail Call". This would be a time that every veteran would receive mail from home and an ample amount! A special thanks to everyone that works on getting these letters from home for our veterans. You know we don't often say things that we really mean but in these letters... you get those heartfelt feelings. These letters are something they cherish.

We were greeted with Highway Patrol and lots of motorcycle riders welcoming our veterans home. We would follow them all the way back to the hotel. It was a beautiful day during our entire trip and  when we got back home it was raining but that certainly didn't stop the motorcycle riders or the many people waiting at at the hotel to welcome these VIP's!

Again, thank you to everyone involved in this wonderful organization! It takes an amazing team to make all of this possible and thank you to Steve, Sharon and Mary Paulsell for spearheading all of this. I am so thankful to be a small piece to something like this flight... something I will certainly remember for many many years to come.

Do you know a World War II and/or Korean Veteran that is able to fly and hasn't been on an Honor Flight? Please visit the Central Missouri Honor Flight's website for more information at:

Have questions... please e-mail Central Missouri Honor Flight or call 573-256-1930

(As of right now they are focusing on World War II and Korean Veterans but exceptions can be made for other conflicts so please ask. When the need is no longer there for World War II and Korean War Veterans they will direct their attention to the next conflicts as resources allow. Please visit their website to stay up on the latest information. Don't know anyone but want to help our veterans continue to see their memorials? Visit their website to donate whatever you are able to donate.)

I been asked by many friends/family lately which do I like better the Virtual Veterans Tours or the Honor Flight and I like them both equally. Both of these allow me to help veterans see their respective memorials.

With Virtual Veterans Tours I get to work with people like Sarah Hill, Dani Wexleman, Olivia Clappo, Scott Schaefer, Chad LaFarge, Bruce Garber and John Butterill and we go to the veterans that are too sick / frail to fly on the regular Honor Flight and take them via Google+ hangout to see their memorials and other parts of the world such as the beaches of Normandy, Pearl Harbor and USS Alabama for example. We take anywhere from 1-3 hours for these tours and I get to spend the day with some pretty passionate people at hospitals, veterans homes and nursing homes. Heck we have drove through blizzards and spent the night in hotels until the storm passed.... it would take a lot for us to cancel on our veterans!

With the Central Missouri Honor Flights I get to work with Steve, Sharon and Mary Paulsell, Cindy "Candy Girl 1" Mutrux, Cheryl "Candy Girl 2" Wallace, AJ Brooks, Mike Cox, Rollan "Wedge King" Garrison and many more  passionate people and actually get to go with a large group of veterans to see their memorials in Washington DC in a very quick 24/26 hour time frame. It is a whirlwind and time passes very quickly but it's amazing how they have it down to minutes at each memorial to allow everyone to pretty much see their respective memorial during this trip. More importantly I have found a brother/sister-hood to these volunteers and/or guardians on this trip (Of course spending 24/26 hours with these awesome veterans builds a bond in your heart too) that you would do anything for them because you see where their heart is. It's not about us... it's about our veterans and getting them to their memorials. Truly an amazing time.

Being able to be at a memorial that means something to someone either physically or virtually is no different. The emotions are there, the stories are often told that have never been told or talked about and the memories are still made. I completely enjoy being involved in both of these organizations and will do what I can to continue to help them both. To see our veterans smile is worth every second!

If you have a few moments to watch this awesome video I think you will see why I love helping our veterans. From a Virtual Veterans Tour to the Central Missouri Honor Flight it is an amazing experience to hangout with some true heroes that fought for our freedom and allowed me to be here today.... helping them see their respective memorials is my way of saying thank you. Every day is Veterans Day! 

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