I had the honor and privilege of joining about 140 courageous yet aging veterans who had served in World War ll, the Korean War and the Vietnam War on a chartered flight to our nation’s capital, marking the first time many of them had visited military memorials in honor of their service.
This was arranged by an amazing group of volunteers called Inland Northwest Honor Flight. For me, it was an experience like no other, and I feel very blessed in having the opportunity to partake in such a remarkable journey.
Before departing Spokane International Airport on Oct. 23, the director of Inland Northwest Honor Flight, Tony Lamanna, gave a stirring speech titled “Why We Stand,” which clearly infused endurance and much-needed energy for the five-hour flight. More on this later.
Upon our arrival, the veterans were greeted inside the terminal with a standing ovation and the waving of American flags. It was a demonstration that showed the utmost appreciation and pride for the men and women who served their country with dignity.
Over the next 24 hours, veterans, along with their volunteer guardians, would pay their respects to the various memorials throughout the capital. The look on many faces of the veterans would bleed some of their darkest, yet memorable moments of their time spent defending our country. While observing the memorials, the veterans would embrace, hold hands and comfort one another – not to mention the occasional wiping away of tears.
To see these veterans at meal time, once again united and embracing one another with wartime stories, was truly a sight to behold. It was a powerful moment for all.
As we arrived back at Spokane International Airport, a mass of people (my guess would be 600 or 700) of all generations welcomed the veterans home and filled the airport with cheering, singing, trumpets, horns and continual clapping. It was a display of appreciation that grabbed the hearts of everyone.
This brings me back to Tony Lamanna’s “Why We Stand” speech, a portion of which follows:
“The American flag has never represented to me my government or the people who run it. It has never represented to me their successes or their failures of policymaking or leadership. It has only and always represented to me the service and sacrifice made by those who defend the ideals it represents. Have those ideals always been upheld with perfection? No, because they are administered by humans who never have been and never will be perfect. However, I believe in my heart they are the most perfect ideals of freedom and liberty the world has ever seen.
“This is why we stand.”
Mark Donoghue is a Spokane business owner and volunteer guardian with Inland Northwest Honor Flight.