At the end of WWII, thousands of servicemen and women came home almost silently. They received very little recognition and appreciation for the very difficult jobs they had just done for our country. They simply returned home and went back to work and providing for their families. Fast forward to 2011–These men are in their late 80’s-90’s. It’s been a long time since they served our country, but it’s certainly not too late to honor and appreciate them, which is how the Honor Air organization came into being.Honor Air was formed by Eddie Mannis with the purpose of honoring WWII (and now also Korean War) Veterans. The trip is given to veterans who have never been to see the WWII Memorial and would never have the opportunity to go on their own.
A few times a year, Honor Air volunteers organize an unforgettable day trip to Washington, D.C. leaving McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville at 7 a.m. As the entourage leaves, a small group sends them off with smiles and a fire truck sprays water on the tarmac as a symbol of honor. After being led by a police escort into D.C., the veterans get to spend time at the WWI Memorial as well as other war memorials. The end of the visit lets them experience the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery.
On the return flight home, there is a mail call for each veteran on board. The mail is thank you letters from Knoxville area students. Emotions are running high as they land in Knoxville.
But what they don’t know is… On the airport’s ramp, over 700 people are waving American flags as they anxiously await the arrival of the veterans. Boy Scout troop stands at attention. A band is playing patriotic music! Television and newspaper crews have cameras ready!
AND 10 red, white and blue balloon arches are standing proudly waiting for the veterans to walk under them! The scene is full of proud energy as we wait for the veterans to see the celebration. For me, it is truly an honor to provide the balloon arches for this well overdue celebration! I love seeing the spark in their eyes, the humbleness, and the joy that these men and women feel when they walk through the arches and throngs of greeters.
This time I created a custom-designed arch that spelled “Thanks.” Using a special technique, I turned the normally solid-colored foil letters into American flag style balloons. This arch was the first thing the veterans saw they disembarked and came onto the exit ramp.
As the men and women go under the arches into the throngs of waving, appreciative people, many smile from ear to ear, others ham it up laughing loudly, some quietly walk through shaking hands, and a few are overcome with emotion. It’s quite an emotional celebration for all.
Honor Air Knoxville is always looking for volunteers to serve as “guardians” on trips, WWII and Korean War Veterans who have never been to D.C. and for financial backing. If you are interested, I invite you to visit the Honor Air Knoxville site at www.honorairknoxville.org for more information. You will be blessed when you do.