I deserve a Purple Heart.
That's what wounded soldiers get. And I was wounded during the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight on May 7.
I got a big blister on my bunion. OK, so a small blister and it's not all that sore, but it did hurt. I just didn't know it hurt until after we got back to Dodge and I walked out of the airport terminal toward my van. Then it hurt like heck.
Sometimes life hands you a rose. In this case, it wasn't life - it was Ron Newsum and his fellow Honor Flight directors who invited me to fly with them as a media representative. It's wrong to hug people you only slightly know, so I merely accepted, then grinned for four months.
It was an honor to take the Honor Flight, to be part of something so special to so many people. It wasn't seeing the actual World War II Memorial that was most amazing, although that is fantastically beautiful - and I'm not given to copious words of praise for anything.
But walking into the memorial through the Pacific arch put a lump in my heart, the same lump that filled my eyes when we got off the plane and ran into line after line of people cheering the veterans, hugging them and saying "thank you."
To think this all started when one man offered to fly his father to see the memorial, and two friends who heard about it said they'd like to go, too. One small, four-seater plane. Four men. And one of the most amazing programs ever to pop up around the country.
There are Honor Flights all over, and Washington, D.C., volunteers welcome each one. In fact, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole greets many of the groups. He was at the memorial when our three buses arrived, but I didn't see him.
When the almost 100 veterans who left Dodge got through their initial look-around at the memorial, they gathered for a group photo with a fountain spouting water behind them. It no longer was a group of guys and women who traveled to the same place together - suddenly it became a big bunch of friends whose laughter came easily and whose stories flowed even more easily.
To be part of that is what the Honor Flight is all about. To be part of a collection of veterans who have seen, and sometimes done, unspeakable things, but have overcome the trauma and learned to be happy again is just about the best feeling in the world. Even if I was an interloper.
But now I've got buddies. Like John Woodbeck, who sat with me on the bus most of the day. And Jim McNally, Don Elkin and Delmar Pearce, who sat with me at the dinner a week before we went. And Lucille Werner, who is just about as sweet as God ever made anyone. Dick Phillips (and his cute wife Ruby) and Gordon Madson, Web Orton and Silvio Ronconi. And the man with the name so fun to say - Abbas Habhab.
It's my own collection of veterans, people who make my heart happy.
Everybody should have such a collection.
So long friends, until the next time when we're together.
Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org