A flood of fond memories was triggered when I visited Washington, D.C., last week with my wife Linda and viewed the World War II Memorial - a couple of days before the world celebrated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Allied forces into Normandy.
It was my first time back to Washington since May 1, 2010, when my dad, Walter B. Stevens, and I were part of the first Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight to our nation's capital that carried precious cargo of about 100 Fort Dodge-area veterans, who were accompanied by escorts.
For us and for other families of the veterans in their 80s and 90s, the timing of the trip was fortuitous. Six months later, dad fell and broke his hip and never would have been able to make a flight. He died last July at the age of 96. For Honor Flight organizer Ron Newsum, he and his stepdad Clem Hentges were on the flight and six weeks later his stepdad had his leg amputated and died at 95 in September 2010.
Both of our dads are part of the sad statistics that show an average of 555 American veterans of World War II die each day. Today, about 1 million veterans are still living out of 16 million who served their nation during the war. Their average age is 92. By 2036, the VA estimates that the last of these Greatest Generation soldiers will be gone.
On the day we visited ... the memorial was almost empty - far different than the scene in May 2010 when we were there. But the memories remain strong, including:
Planes taking off from Dulles reminding us of our landing there and taxiing through streams of water shot into the air by fire trucks greeting us, the twin lines of people saluting and shaking hands with the vets as they got onto buses on the tarmac, the motorcycles with flags waving as they escorted us into the city, people in the memorial area saluting and waving at our buses, viewing the WW II-Korea-Vietnam memorials, sack lunch in a park, seeing the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery in the early evening, mail call on the return flight, a band and scores of greeters awaiting us at midnight at the Fort Dodge airport. And on and on.
Our flight was the first of eight from Fort Dodge that have in total carried more than 800 World War II veterans to Washington, plus many Vietnam vets who have gone along as escorts. The veterans hail from some 34 counties and 107 communities in northwest Iowa.
On the most recent Brushy Creek flight, May 10, Newsum said, there were only 14 World War II veterans onboard with the balance being Korean War vets - a trend that is occurring nationally.
The next flight is scheduled for Sept. 6, and arrangements are now being made for another flight on May 9, 2015. (Donations are being accepted to fund the flights, which cost about $100,000 each. They can be mailed to: Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight, 320 S, 12th St., Fort Dodge, IA 50501.)
"I'm proud to have taken both of our fathers on this 'Trip of a lifetime,'" Ron told me. "It has been the right project at the right time."
And while we both miss our dads greatly, we are honored to recognize their service and appreciative that they were able to make that one last flight.
Paul Stevens, Lenexa, Kan., is the son of the late Walter B. Stevens, longtime editor of The Messenger.