Written by Cory Gore, Gore Properties and Appraisal Group, LLC
Honor Flight SENC Guardian & WRAR Appraisal Council Chair
(Wednesday, April 14, 2010) Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. We took 114 WWII Veterans from Wilmington to Washington, D.C. to see their World War II Memorial and other memorials. Our Representatives, McIntyre and Burk, met us at the Memorial. My three Veterans, whom I had the honor to escort were 86, 88, and 90 years old. They, like most of the Vets, were physically and mentally well.
Mr. Williamson and his wife live in Sunset Park, Mr. Risley and his wife live in Pine Valley (served on Mine Sweeper) and Mr. Kelly has a daughter in Bayshore. Mr. Kelly survived Pearl Harbor as he was “blown out of contention” on a Destroyer for D-Day and Iwo Jima. We are now new best friends.
He downplayed his service (I finally got some unreal stories from him), yet he made light of the awful things he had seen and in typical WWII Veteran fashion said his worst experience was the Flying Fish in the Pacific hitting him in the face when he and his buddies sat on the stern of the Destroyer at night and played poker. At 90, he said, “Look at these old farts, I’m way too young to be here.” He is a traveled man and lives alone in Cape Cod in a huge house and gets annoyed at “slow people in lines.” I now know the inside story of the Marines who were the first in what we now call “Special Forces” at Iwo Jima.
I met all three prior to the trip and now love them like family.
Three Brothers, the Venter Brothers who are all Navy Veterans, were scheduled to go on this trip. When I asked the two brothers where the third was, they said he died in March. They proudly told me about him, their brother, the best CB man in the Navy.
These gentlemen were on and off planes and buses all day walking and walking mostly in the rain never once complaining. A few Marines said, “If it ain’t raining, you ain’t training.” A Navy Vet said, “Son, water was my business.” At one point, a gentleman who had a walker-seat thing was coming in out of the rain. Two of us found some old paper and were trying to dry it off for him to sit. He said, “Come on fellows, I’m just fine.” Others stood in the rain and walked around like athletes although the media did not show that.
At each plane departure and landing, “Water Cannons” doused the plane. All the folks on the tarmac saluted or waved and the largest flag I have ever seen draped the entry to the airport suspended by two cranes. The Captains of the planes (Airbus A320) greeted them and spoke to them over the intercom during flight.
We had a police escort to the Memorial through Washington, D.C.! As far as I know, only the President gets that. On the buses, we had a guide describing everything we saw. We had food, snacks and water all during the day. Even airport security at Reagan National stopped traffic for us to cross… It took some time, but no one complained.
Everywhere we went, random people came over to sincerely thank our Vets for their service. A classroom of children were at the Air Force Memorial (you can see where the Pentagon was hit on 9/11). They found Mr. Ventors, one of the first to hit the beach at Normandy, and interviewed him. They asked him to come on the bus for a video interview. We held up the procession for them to do this. They thanked us and we thanked them. These children need to know.
The reception back in Wilmington was overwhelming and not well seen in the video. A security guard estimated that 1,000 people were there. All short and long term parking was full with overflow in an area I had not previously seen.
The band and applause was deafening as we walked into the lobby. Groups of scouts, Vets and active Military all saluted. An honor guard held swords above the heads of the Vets (with us) in single procession. Balloons and flags were everywhere. The procession out of the airport alone lasted 20 minutes or so with people even in the balconies. The Mayor, County Commissioners and many of my old Wilmington buddies were there.
Mr. Kelly said, “I didn’t know there were this many people in Wilmington.” It was so loud, you could not hear yourself think. It went on and on. People in tears, over and over, came and reverently thanked the Vets for their service. While people searched to shake their hands, some Vets and we guardians teared up. Many of us touched the heads of the young Scouts who were giving the Scout salute and thanked them for being there. People actually thanked me and I thanked them in return. My family and friends were there from near and far.
When it was over, as I escorted my Gents out, they said they had never been appreciated like this before. They shook hands, people crying came over and hugged them and shook their hands as they were saluted from Boy Scouts and Korean and Vietnam Vets.
One other Vet, Mr. Inman, said when he had came home after the War after 4 years, he went to work the next day at his Dad’s gas station. This day was the very first time he had ever been thanked for his service… 65 years later.
Folks, the best days of my life are my marriage to my wife, Jill, which came with my beautiful daughter, Lauren, the birth of my beautiful daughter Rachel, and this day. Yesterday was truly the next best day of my life. The day I spent with 114 of the Veterans of World War II who truly are Men of the Greatest Generation.
We have two more flights scheduled based on Vets already on the waiting list. I can not wait! Donations or time is appreciated. We will not allow our Vets to pay anything and 100% of every 1 dollar goes to the flight (approximately $400 per Vet or $50,000 per flight).
Finally, I must admit at the end of the day, I had to take a few minutes off by myself and to “let it go.” I had now been “honorably discharged” by men who served our country in World War II - the Men of the Greatest Generation.
For more information on Honor Flight SENC or to learn how you can get involved, please go to www.honorflightsenc.org. Also, a short video featuring the Welcome Home event at ILM Airport can be viewed by clicking here.