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Honor Flight: Helping Our WWII Veterans

29 June 2011 No Comment

Several times each semester, NOVA’s Community Relations Coordinator Ken Balbuena gathers NOVA volunteers to help greet the Honor Flights of the rapidly-decreasing generation of World War II veterans. These veterans come to Washington to visit with their congressional representatives and to view the World War II Memorial. Usually the NOVA greeters come from the Alexandria and Annandale campuses.

The Honor Flight Network was founded in 2005 to transport principally WWII veterans to Washington for free. The program has expanded from sending 12 veterans in its first year to having taken over 63,000 veterans to Washington in 2010.

One such greeting occasion occurred on the morning of April 27 as Balbuena, NOVA college-wide activities coordinator Brian Anweiler and Alexandria students Daniel “Dan” Ruff and Yasmin Lara, along with the Alexandria NOVA band helped greet the US Airways Honor Flight from Columbia, S.C., to Reagan National Airport.

The Honor Flight chartered the entire plane and included about 100 veterans along with friends and relatives and officials, including medical personnel.

The morning flight arrived just a little late. After a bit of a wait, the first veterans appeared out of the jet way as the NOVA band, adding greatly to the celebratory atmosphere, struck up the first of many patriotic tunes as greeters from NOVA, the USO, the Girl Scouts and numerous other organizations held signs and applauded.

The veterans, most of them in their eighties and nineties, reacted in different ways. Some of them broke into a broad smile, some of them shed a bit of a tear, many waved, some seemed in awe of the welcome. No matter what their reaction, they all accepted hugs offered from the female greeters of the group.

The veterans were not walking as fast as they once did, as they arrived in clumps into the terminal. Perhaps a third of them were in wheelchairs, and others had canes. Many of them were aided by friends or relatives. Owing to the difficulty of putting the veterans in wheelchairs, it took about 35 to 40 minutes for the plane to be entirely unloaded, but the greeters remained exuberant throughout.

From the airport, the veterans were bussed to Capitol Hill for a brief visit with congressional representatives, and they then visited the World War II Memorial. There they looked up the campaigns in which they were involved and spoke to many of the other visitors on that bright, sunny day.

The veterans represented a wide array of services and campaigns. There was an Army machine gunner on the allied Italy campaign, bomber and fighter pilots in the South Pacific, personnel involved in the New Guinea, Philippines and Okinawa campaigns, a mechanic on B-25 bombers stationed in Great Britain from 1943 to 1945, and a Navy veteran stationed on the aircraft carrier Intrepid. Most of the veterans were male, but there was one female Army nurse who served in North Africa. She was now accompanied by a nurse who helped her get around.

It was a great way to spend a few hours.

The Alexandria Campus Band of NOVA strikes up a patriotic tune as the first WWII veterans enter the Reagan National Airport terminal. Photo by: Arch Scurlock

NOVA students Jasmin Lara and Dan Ruff prepare to greet the WWII veterans at the airport. Photo by: Arch Scurlock

A World War II veteran takes a photo of the greeters in the airport terminal April 27. The veterans came to Washington to visit with their congressional representatives and to view the World War II Memorial.Photo by: Arch Scurlock

By: Arch Scurlock

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