In her latest Share Your Stories post, Holly Elissa Bruno reflects on the Honor Flight Network and unsung heroes. Join in the conversation with Holly Elissa as you think about the importance of celebrating the quiet and inspirational heroes in your lives.
Hudson Valley Honor flight, September 27, 2014
National Airport’s Terminal C crackled electric. Fanning into a gauntlet from Gate 38’s open door, civilians like me swayed shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers donned in crisply pressed navy and white or green uniforms. Children squeezed through us waving petite American flags like sparklers in the night. One gentle Golden Retriever working dog smiled in abiding patience at her place in line beside our knees. Musicians in the brass band seated to my right, reconfirmed the order of their sheet music.
We scanned that open door, all of us, for World War II veterans arriving from Hudson Valley, New York on an Honor Flight. Soldiers were coming home to the nation’s capital and to the welcome they never got and always deserved.
And then the wheel chairs, pushed by grateful volunteers, started to roll, transporting precious cargo: once young soldiers, now octogenarians and nonogenarians. Then came the men walking as tall as they could with tripod canes, including Jack from Staten Island and Rocco from Rochester.
Sixty-eight years ago, these same soldiers returned without fanfare, without the PTSD diagnosis that could bring relief, without help to face substance addictions, but with the expectation they would overnight return to life and work, putting the war horrors behind them.
Urged by the line around me, I flew to each soldier, offering a hug, thanking them, honoring them, crying with them. My heart burst with gratitude and love. War is not my answer; but, I will always appreciate the people who risk everything to defend the freedoms we hold dear.
So many stories to hear. Too many stories untold. Too many wounds to heal. Far too many years without praise.
My heart, spilling over, flowing through my eyes, aching with awe, wondered: Will I burst into a flood of tears? Do I have room for yet another and another hero?
Then she emerged, her snowy haired, hound-dog eyed, sassy self: Ms. Ruth Maillot, Marine. At 103 the oldest living female Marine on earth. All the Marines had wanted was a few good men. They got one 5 foot tall giant of a woman instead: Ruth the powerhouse.
“Thank you for your courage, ma’am. May I give you a hug?” I offered. “Of course,” she replied, eyes sparkling, if weary; heart strong, if weary. Ms. Ruth smiled the smile of a sage who has seen it all—and learned from all of it. As her body downsized, her spirit soared.
Hugging Ms. Ruth, I found myself confiding, “I became an attorney. I never could have done that if it weren’t for you.” And I kissed Ms. Ruth’s cheeks.
Ms. Ruth looked me straight in the eye, sister to sister, and announced in her timeless voice, “We paved the way. We paved the way for all of you who followed.”
I looked her straight in the eye: “Yes you did, Ms. Ruth. And, yes you do. Bless you. Thank you.”
As I let her go, Ms. Ruth rolled on to more hugs and more applause and more salutes. She and the men rolled on to a full day in Washington, DC visiting World War II monuments, hearing praise by leaders, stopping at Arlington Cemetery to honor their buddies who either did not return alive or who have already come to the end of their days.
Maybe Ms. Ruth had a tear in her eye. She had more than a right. She and so many others went to war, fought their hearts out, and returned to a country that expected them to get right back to business as usual. For Ms. Ruth, what could “business as usual” mean?
PTSD. Doctors called it “shell shock.” Soldiers were expected to get over it, go home, go back to work, go back to every day days. How do you do that when you see the faces of your buddies who didn’t return with you? How do you do that when loud noises spark panic attacks and pain sears so deep no amount of love can fill the hole in your heart?
Honor flights help: They honor our unsung heroes. They give a second chance to all of us to do the right thing.
Do you have an unsung hero in your life, from any type of war, who could use a real or symbolic Honor Flight home?
To watch a compelling documentary on the founding of Honor Flights, go to www.honorflightsthemovie.com or order it from your local public library. For more information on the Honor Flight Network, and to see more photographs, visit the Hudson Valley Honor Flight Facebook page.
BY LEAVING A COMMENT, I hereby give my permission to Redleaf Press to use my story and quote me (all names will be changed) in Holly Elissa Bruno’s upcoming book on second chances, including in all revised editions of the book, in all formats (including print and electronic) now known or developed in the future, in all languages and territories, and in any other subsidiary editions of the book, and in promotional materials published by Redleaf Press, as it sees fit.