By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
WASHINGTON—Bob Kristensen had just found the name of one of his high school friends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.
Arthur Sisco Jr.
The name had been chalked for him at the memorial by one of the staff and Kristensen was now holding it. Tears beginning to flow from behind his reflective sunglasses.
“He was one of the guys who was on my football team,” he said. “We had 22 guys from our high school (in New Jersey) who died. “We can’t find all of them here because a lot of them had nicknames and right now it’s just overwhelming.
Kristensen was one of 42 veterans who traveled to Washington, D.C., on Honor Flight DFW, No. 42. It was an opportunity to spend two days,
all expenses paid, to visit with each other and visit the memorials dedicated to the wars in which they fought, along with Arlington National Cemetery, among other sites.
For many of the men—and one woman—the journey was deeply personal and emotional. Some brought family members as their guardians—brothers, sons, daughters—to share the memories.
Through Dallas Love Field and upon arrival at Washington Reagan National Airport not only did water cannons from fire trucks greet
the Southwest Airlines flight on the tarmac, but the veterans were greeted, cheered, high-fived and thanked—a different environment for many of them compared to their return from war, especially those from Vietnam.
There were tears from both veterans who were walking and those sitting in wheelchairs being pushed by a loved one and those lining the path at the gates upon their arrival.
“It absolutely gets emotional,” said Tudy Giordano, president of Honor Flight DFW. “They don’t know that this is going to happen—that the crowds are going to receive them.
“For the public, too, it is important for them to see the veterans and for them to recognize them and to be able to clap as the old warriors come through. It is very uplifting to the public, as well.”
Along with the Vietnam memorial, the group also visited memorials to the Korean War and World War II; they saw the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and four of the veterans were able to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier there.
They visited the Air Force Memorial, across a highway from the Pentagon, and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial so that Mary Marks, a Korean War veteran, and others could tour the museum honoring women and see Marks’ name on the big screen.
At Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., they were treated to Big Band music reminiscent of the World War II era, along with a group of four women accompanying the band on Andrews Sisters-type songs.
A few danced to fast and slow numbers, while others tapped their feet or fingers, smiling as their newfound friends were having a good time.
As the show was coming to a close and they heard what the song was going to be, they all stood up. Some of those who were in wheelchairs struggled to get on their feet, while others said, “Help me up.”
As the band started playing and the singer began singing, “God Bless America,” they sucked in their stomaches as best they could, raised their right hand to their forehead, and saluted.
“From the mountains, to the prairies…”
Corky Harris, 91, of Dallas, and an Occupation Forces veteran of World War II, could not hold back. Tears began flowing from behind his glasses. A scan of the crowd revealed many in the same way: veterans dressed in blue shirts, guardians in red ones, tears in their eyes.
When the song ended, Harris wiped the tears and sat down.
“It was an emotional moment,” he would say later.
As they got on the flight back to Dallas, they were greeted by a flight crew that had made and posted “Thank you” signs throughout the cabin. There were other surprises too, emotional ones that hit home for many. Upon their return to Dallas Love Field, late on Saturday, Sept. 21, more than a 100 people lined paths outside the secure area, cheering and greeting loved ones.
“This Honor Flight kind of put some kind of closure to the disrespect that we got,” Kristensen, the Vietnam veteran, said. “It meant a lot coming through the airport, people clapping. People respect you. Back then, I don’t know what the deal was. People didn’t realize what it meant to have such a great country.”
Editor’s note: Honor Flight DFW raises funds throughout the year to pay expenses for all veterans on the flights. Guardians pay their own expenses. To learn more about Honor Flight DFW, how to donate or to nominate a veteran for a flight, go to HonorFlightDFW.org.