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Honor Flight: When monuments come to life

By Master Sgt. Christopher G. Dion | 502nd Air Base Wing Inspector General Office | Sept. 15, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

Across our great country, there stand numerous monuments erected to the memory of men and women who served and often died for our country.

Growing up in New England, I remember that every town had a monument dedicated to members of the community that served in a particular war or conflict. I often reflected upon the statue atop the monument of a warrior dressed in the uniform of that time and imagined who they were and what their individual story was.

Imagine with me for a moment standing in front of some of the most famous military statues and monuments in our country. Imagine the figure atop coming to life or the name on the wall taking form.

Standing before you now is a Marine who fought at the battle of Peleliu or an Army Soldier who thwarted the Nazi push in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Maybe he is one of the “Frozen Chosin” or one of the last gunners to ever fight as a member of a bomber crew in the Asian Theater.

Picture the warrior being a nurse from China Beach or a survivor of the Tet Offensive or a prisoner of war from any war. What would you ask them? What stories would you hear? Who would they be and where would they come from? What happened to them after the war?

At 4 a.m. Sept. 8, that image became a reality for me as I reported for duty to serve as a guardian for an Honor Flight San Antonio mission.

At the airport, I was introduced to 40 separate volumes of real American history. Each one offered me a different perspective on what it was like to live through various battles and operations I had learned of in school, as well as many that were known only to them, those who had served with them and secret government archives.

In addition to stories of war, they also shared stories of love. They shared stories of high school sweethearts they married and remained to faithful through years of absence and had celebrated 65 years till death did they part. There were stories of GIs restored to health by nurses that never gave up on them and the GI who in return persisted in his pursuit of love till the nurse said yes to him in front of family and friends.

With each passing hour and each story told, the statues of my youth became more real and alive. As we visited service memorials to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, I gained a new respect and appreciation for the service I and other members of my own family had committed to for more than 20 years.

While at the World War II Memorial, the pillars took on the personality of men like Private 1st Class John Valls of Laredo, Texas, who served under Gen. George S. Patton and liberated Buchenwald Prison.

At the Korean monument, the bronze sculptures spoke to me as I listened to Maj. Jim Creswell tell stories that led him to be awarded the Korean Medal of Honor with five stars.

In listening to the stories of Lt. Eleanor Bjoring, I could truly feel the emotion depicted at the Vietnam Memorials Nurses monument.

Finally, at the Tomb of the Unknown, I stood in silent reverence as I saw the emotion and memories come flooding silently back to these 40 veterans and heard from Staff Sgt. Reuben “George” Harvey, who had been a gunner on a B-29 doing night time bombing runs over the Korean Peninsula, and how it had taken him years to truly gain an appreciation for his own service due to the climate of a war-weary country who had lost its respect for those who served that made those who sacrificed hide their service.

As the mission came to an end Sept. 9 with the Honor Flights returning to the San Antonio International Airport, I watched as these heroes finally received the welcome home that had been denied them for so long.

It reinforced my own feeling that in these men and women lied the true embodiment of service and that it is they who deserve, more than I, the handshakes and thanks I receive every day from a citizenry that once again has regained its appreciation for those that, in the words of Col. Nathan R. Jessup from the movie “A Few Good Men,” provide the very blanket of freedom we rest under each night.

If you yourself value the warmth of that blanket and wish to repay a little bit of gratitude owed to these living monuments of American history, then I challenge you to volunteer. Contact Honor Flight San Antonio and be a part of the welcome home team. Go on to their website (http://honorflightsanantonio.org/) and apply to be a guardian and experience for yourself this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share the lives of these living storybooks.

However, do not stop there. Go down to Floresville and visit the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home or the VA Hospital in San Antonio or Kerrville.

Drive down to your local VFW and just listen. You will hear stories you will find nowhere else that may soon be lost to time if no one will listen.

We all enjoy telling our own stories, as is evident by the popularity of social media. Consider though that if we want others to listen to us we must listen to others as well and who better to hear from than those that have lived the lives depicted by and memorialized by statues in our nation’s parks.

Provide for them that sense of appreciation that has been denied them for so long. I challenge you to be the tickertape parade at the end of the Honor Flight for just one living American statue.