I had the opportunity to go on the World War II Honor Flight last year, and was fortunate to make the same flight again this year. It’s a whirlwind, 20-hour, day-long trip to Washington D.C. with our WWII & Korean War Veterans. It gives them a chance to see the memorials in the nation’s capitol that were created and dedicated to them.
It all begins as a trip that many of the veterans aren’t sure they want to make, and usually go, only because their family members talk them into it. But all that changes when they enter the concourse at the Baltimore Washington International Airport. This year, 65 U.S. Naval Academy Cadets formed a receiving line saluting and thanking the vets for their service. At the same time, other travelers in the concourse begin gathering to clap and cheer. Its part planned, part impromptu, and very moving.
When most people think of the soldiers returning home, the iconic image that comes to mind is the Alfred Eisenstaedt photo of the sailor kissing a woman, who was a complete stranger, in Times Square on VJ Day, August 1945. But in reality, most of the veterans came home in 1946, and simply went back to life. So for these Kentucky veterans, the Honor Flight became their long, overdue, Thank You parade!
Unfortunately, we are losing our World War II veterans at a rate of 1,500 per day. Several of the vets on the 2010 trip passed away between October and when the story ran in the May 2011 issue of Kentucky Living. This is what makes it so special to the veterans, and the guardians who go, we all know in an unspoken way that this is the last parade for the men who gave so much.
I said it last year, and I’ll say it again, The Honor Flights have been the most touching stories that I’ve ever worked on as a photographer.
Sen. Bob Dole, a WWII veteran himself, is often on hand to greet veterans at the WWII Memorial.
I’ve tried to photograph the World War II Memorial on seven separate trips to DC. I’ve worked every angle that I can think of, with every lens that I own.
But fittingly enough, just like the war itself, you can not capture it from one single angle. It’s hands down my favorite attraction in Washington.
Forrest Sparrow meets a Dominique Potier from Liege, Belgium. Sparrow was wounded and hospitalized at the Battle of the Bulge in Potier’s hometown of Liege.
Potier couldn’t thank him enough for saving his country and his hometown.
The two men simply met by chance on this day at the WWII memorial!
Oddly enough, the Korean War Memorial tends to evoke a little more emotion than the WWII Memorial.
The Rolling Thunder brought the vets back into Baltimore at the end of the day.
On the plane ride back home, the men received “mail call” from school kids all over the state.
Returning to the airport in Louisville, to a reception and parade of over 200 people was the emotional straw that broke the camel’s back.
You would have to have been a robot not to cry!
This is the parade that most of the Kentucky veterans missed out on.
Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt