A Unique Way to Honor the Veterans of World War II

Flight of Honor participants are greeted at the Raleigh, North Carolina airport.
Flight of Honor participants are greeted at the Raleigh, North Carolina airport. (photo: Image Credit: “Rtphokie”, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Bagpipes played “Amazing Grace” in the airport concourse.

At first, I thought it was some kind of performance arranged by the airport administration as a publicity stunt. Or, perhaps it was a local high school band performing as a public service.

Then I saw the flags, and I knew it was a color guard making its way down the aisle. But, what for?

Then the announcement over the loud speaker. An Honor Flight was preparing to take off, and would everyone in the concourse please give a round of applause to honor these veterans who had so bravely served their country?

Honor Flight is a non-profit organization that transports veterans free of charge to Washington DC to visit the War Memorial.

Behind the color guard they came – veterans of World War II and terminally ill veterans of other wars. They marched along to the best of their ability, given that some used canes and others were in wheel chairs.

Still, they marched, proud to have given their best in the service of the ol’ Red, White, and Blue.

My heart thumped and a huge lump sprang up in my throat. My eyes teared up.

The veterans, Honor Flight guardians, relatives, and on-lookers gathered at the gate down the row from mine and a beautiful female voice belted out the Star Spangled Banner.

If my flight hadn’t been boarding just at that moment, I would have joined as well.

Yet, there was a blessing in not having joined, odd as that may seem. As I stood in line, craning my neck to see the Honor Flight ceremony, I noticed that a change was coming over the people around me.

“My dad was a Korean War vet,” the woman to my left sighed. “He’d be 87 today if he’d lived. Funny, I’d always thought he fought in WWII, but he told me it was Korea not long before he died.”

“Mine, too,” said a man further up the line.

“My dad was a WWII vet,” said the woman on my right. “He’d be 92 today.”

“My dad was a WWII veteran,” I heard myself say. But I was too choked up to say more.

So it went. One by one, the travelers on the concourse remembered the folks in their lives who had fought in one of the great wars. And in that odd way of having shared a common experience, there was a spirit of solidarity.

Surely the veterans themselves were feeling that solidarity, and to a degree far higher than the other passengers.

They put their lives on the line in order to guard the freedom of others. Hitler was a godless man bent on genocide. His goal was to eliminate those who he considered unfit to dwell on this earth, and to destroy anyone who got in his way. That included tens of thousands of Catholics and thousands of Catholic priests. The elderly men boarding the Honor Flight had been a part of the campaign to stop Hitler’s evil scheme.

Lately, there’s been quite a bit of hub-bub about the notion of “just peace” (as opposed to “just war”), especially with the recent conference in Rome hosted by Pax Christi International and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The group’s conclusion was that there is no such thing as a “just war” and they’ve called on Pope Francis to issue an encyclical to the same effect.

War is ugly in every respect, and no one knows that more than the veterans who have fought in one.

I posted about the Honor Flight on my social media, and received a biting remark from someone who finds “military service incompatible with Christian nonviolence.”

Personally, I’d have a most difficult time saying that to the men, women, and children who were liberated from the Nazi death camps by United States soldiers. My sister-in-law’s parents were two of them. If it hadn’t been for the brave military service of soldiers during WWII, my sister-in-law wouldn’t be here, nor would my wonderful niece and nephew.

Before the concentration camp victims could be released, a war had to be fought.

I think that’s what Pope Francis was getting at when he spoke about this in regard to ISIS during his in-flight interview with journalists on his way back from South Korea last summer. He said,

“In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor, ... I underscore the verb 'stop.' I'm not saying 'bomb' or 'make war,' just 'stop.' And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.”

The Honor Flight is perfectly named, and the veterans who participate are deserving of that honor.