Friday, April 15, 2011

Abilene's West Texas Honor Flight for World War II Veterans

It is with pride and the greatest appreciation that I present the story of Abilene's West Texas Honor Flight, April 12, 2011,  honoring 200 of our World War II Veterans with a trip to Washington, DC to visit "their" WWII Memorial.

                                WWII Memorial Shield engraved on the Ceremonial entrance (Photo by Richard Latoff)

(Photo by Richard Latoff)

Honor Flight is an organization of the highest moral character that is trying their best to see that every Veteran of WW II may visit the WW II Memorial before they pass on to a higher place.  With about 1,000 men and women of the Greatest Generation dying every day, they are working quickly.  The flights are paid for by donations from the American citizens.  Not one penny of US government money is spent.  I find this heartwarming and at the same time, amazing !  To me, it shows that the American people are patriotic, loving, caring, appreciative and proud of these "heroes" as each one is truly American Hero of huge proportions!

This was the first Honor Flight out of West Texas, and Jeff Ballinger from Iowa who has arranged 8 flights out of Iowa,  along with 10 of his top Volunteers, also from Iowa, came to Abilene to "teach" Abilene how to pull off a task of HUGE efforts.  The city of Abilene participated and like cream, they rose to the top!  But I can assure you that these Iowa people are just the same quality folks as the ones in West Texas!

200 WW II Veterans gathered in Abilene after applying to make the trip and being accepted.  Check-in for the trip began at the MCM Hotel used as headquarters. 

This is my 94 year old dad, William L. Hudson (Bill) who served in the Counter Intelligence Corps in Germany during the war.  He will be in a lot of the photographs as I was with him in Abilene, and of course, being my dad, I took a lot of photos of him.

The Veterans registered and were given supplies to make the trip.  Each Veteran was given a royal purple polo shirt with the logo of the trip embroidered on it. 
                                                           "West Texas Honor Flight"

They were, also, given a red, white and blue cap to wear along with a very handy fanny pack to carry necessities.  I thought it was so nice that Honor Flight provided each Vet with a disposable camera with a flash so that they could take some personal photos.

My dad, Bill, with the bandaged right hand, seated after registration visiting with other Veterans and becoming acquainted.  It was a joyous time to meet fellow Veterans who had all served their country to the best of their abilities!

That evening before the flight the next day, the 200 Veterans were honored with a special dinner at the Abilene Civic Center.  The Vets boarded 10 chartered buses along with the person who brought them for the trip to the dinner. 

The Veterans are walking under the huge American flag to board the buses.  Everywhere you looked, there was a sea of purple shirts and red hats.  ........a sight so touching that tears filled my eyes with pride and emotion!   One of the elderly gentlemen asked me if I had ever seen so many "old" men in one place.  I responded that I had never seen so many heroes in one place!

Ten chartered buses transported our heroes gently to the Civic Center, led by the Patriot Motorcycle Brigade and Abilene policemen in police cars and on motorcycles.  The Firemen of Abilene provided paramedics for both days of this event.   Along the way, the people of Abilene, Texas lined the streets to greet and honor these aged heroes of WW II.   Families, little children, the elderly,  held up signs, waved American flags and shouted out to the buses.  All traffic stopped as the buses drove by out of respect.  It was a sight to behold !! I simply cannot express the emotion that filled my heart to see such appreciation shown!

Two and  three year old little ones in a day care were standing at the fence of their playground waving and cheering.

Approaching the Civic Center, our motorcade was greeted by these motorcycle patrolmen saluting and standing at attention as the 10 buses passed by.  The buses passed under a gigantic American Flag that the Abilene Firemen and placed over the street on their tallest hook and ladder truck.  Impressive would not begin to describe the moment!

The people on our bus were overcome with emotion due to the tribute of the parade.  I witnessed a lot of "damp" eyes.

We were greeted at the Civic Center by a magnificent band from Hardin-Simmons University playing,  men and women lining the walkways standing at attention, holding an American flag.  It was awesome.

By this time, our WW II Heroes were truly in awe of the "over the top" welcome!

Teachers lined the walkway handing each Vet a letter written by one of their students.  The letters were serious and some were a "hoot"!  I saw many a Vet smiling as he read his letters. Each Vet received at least 5 or 6 such letters from the children of West Texas showing their appreciation in their own way.

This is one of the letters that my dad, Bill Hudson, received.

  The Banquet Hall was dressed in all its glory with red, white and blue!  The tables were set as if for royalty.  The service was attentive, kind, swift, and the food was deliciously prepared with loving detail.

My dad, Bill Hudson, meeting the Veteran seated next to him.  Each table seated 10 people.

Theses are my parents, Bill and Tomi Hudson, ages 94 and 91.  I tell you this fact because I do not think they show their true ages.

These three lovely young ladies on the stage are from Hardin-Simmons University.  They sang a medley of WW II songs much to the delight of their audience.  Their voices were beautiful!  Another lady singer, Teea Goans from Nashville, Tennessee, also, entertained vocally.

This is the program for the activities at the Civic Center banquet.  Men and women were, also, honored who had planned this monumental trip for the 200 Veterans and the Volunteers who were trained to travel along side the Vets and make their trip possible and comfortable.  Words could never express the gratitude felt by the Veterans to these loving, caring people who gave of themselves,  their time away from their families and jobs to make this all possible.  My dad told me that each Volunteer was beyond kind, patient, loving, caring, holding the Veteran's esteem in the highest position.  I know that my dad was touched to the depth of his soul, and I think I can say that for all the Veterans who participated in the West Texas Honor Flight!

After the Banquet, the 10 chartered buses returned everyone back to MCM hotel to get a little sleep-eye before assembling again at 2:00 am for a little breakfast and board the buses once again to be taken to the airport in Abilene to board their two chartered airliners.

The 196 men and 4 lady Veterans met at the table with the color of balloons that they had been assigned.  There were groups of orange, silver, blue, red, pink, and several others colors.  Their name tags were in the color assigned to that Vet. 

My dad, Bill Hudson, seated with the "orange" group. 

This is the news anchor from KFDX, Wichita Falls, Texas, leading the men in "Hello, Texhoma" to be aired before the news that evening.

My dad, Bill Hudson, in the center of photo,  boarding the bus in Abilene to head to the airport to board the plane for the "memorable journey" to Washington DC, WW II Memorial.

At this point my mom and I said goodbye to my dad, and he was in the care of the Volunteers until the return back to Abilene.  I can honestly say that we did not worry as we had met the Volunteers and knew they were the most dedicated group that could have been assembled.  Doctors, nurses, paramedics, firemen, policemen, were all there ready to give of themselves.  

At this point in my blog, I was prepared to show you the photos in Washington DC that my dad took with his disposable camera the Honor Flight people had given to each Veteran.  But, sadly, I will tell you that I took the camera today to have the photos developed, and the processors broke the insides of the camera and messed up his film.  It was such a disappointment to me, but my parents took the news with dignity.  I would have loved the photo of my dad standing next to the Texas portion of the WW II Memorial.
(Can you not feel my pain as I try to rise up to the position that my parents took?)........onward with my story.

At the hotel we were told to gather close to midnight to welcome the Veterans and Volunteers back home.  A slight delay with the two planes, and they started delivering the weary travelers to the hotel around 1:00 am.  As each Veteran entered the ballroom, cheers went up and flags started to wave.  You could just see some renewed energy come over the tired traveler, and a glow of appreciation would appear.  I saw that happen time after time as each man and woman entered the room. 

My mom and I are welcoming our traveler, Bill Hudson, home.  He looks great to have been "upright" for 26 hours.  The thrill of the journey kept him going and revitalized!

Welcome Home, Albert Dowdy of Wichita Falls, Texas.

Welcome Home, N.J. Thornton of Wichita Falls, Texas.

We stayed until 2:00 am welcoming every one of the Veterans back to Abilene.......even my dad. 

We come to the end of a Glorious day in the lives of 200 deserving WW II Veterans.  They made memories to last the rest of their lives and fondly look back on and remember the trip, the people who gave them admiration and respect, the wonderful people of West Texas Honor Flight, new friends, and the feeling inside of truly being honored and appreciated for their military service to their country.

I want to end with this and a salute:

I sat next to a hero on the bus heading to the banquet.  He told me his name was Billy Baldwin from Rotan, Texas.  He quietly asked me if I had even seen a Medal of Honor.  I told him, no, that I had not.  He reached into his fanny pack and produced a shiny Medal of Honor awarded to him in 1944 for his services in The Longest Day at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.  I was so stunned but managed to take a photo of his medal awarded so very many years ago......67 long years ago.  I am touched by the wrinkled hand that age has weathered, but how the 3/4 ounce of pure gold is as bright today as it was the day he received it. 

Time cannot "dim" or diminish the Golden service "The Greatest Generation" sacrificed to serve their country, The United States of America, with love and the deepest of patriotism and respect.

God Bless America today and forever, and may we learn from these men and women that freedom is not free.  We must teach our children , our grandchildren and our great grandchildren how to honor and love America and hold dear the principles that have made America great!


Susan said...

Wow! What great photos of an important happening. Great job! Your parents, by the way, really look wonderful...they each look 20 years younger than they are! Thanks for sharing. Susan

CAS said...

This was such a great tribute, and I am overwhelmed with emotions. Thank you for sharing.

Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

What a wonderful experience for your father. I remember reading in the paper some months ago that they did this around our area. This isn't our hometown, so I didn't know anyone who participated, but I thought then that it was such a great thing to do to honor our parent's generation. I really enjoyed seeing the pictures and your parents do look great!

Anonymous said...

love it.

Entertaining Women said...

My daddy landed in the first wave at Salerno. I am so grateful for the honor that your city paid to these amazing soldiers and for the efforts of Honor Flight. I can barely see to type...too many tears. Thank you for sharing this precious journey and for stopping by my post. Cherry Kay

lvroftiques said...

Oh Phyllis this brought tears to both mine and my husbands eyes. I'm overwhelmed with emotion and so touched about your comment to the elderly vetran that "you'd never seen so many "heros" in one place" AMEN to that! May God bless each and every one of them for their bravery and service. We are free today because of their sacrifice. I am and will always be forever grateful.
And may I say I would never guess your parents were any older than their late 70's! *winks* Vanna

mo said...

God Bless our dear veterans!

So many angels gathered here in one place!