Honoring the veterans of the Greatest Generation

By Brig. Gen. Scott Legwold
Director, Joint Staff, Wisconsin National Guard

In a few days we will observe Memorial Day, honoring those who have given their full measure in service to our nation. But we ought not overlook the opportunity to honor those veterans still among us.

 

It has been my privilege to support four Honor Flight events over the last two years. The Honor Flight program recognizes World War II veterans by taking them on a one-day trip to Washington, D.C. to visit Arlington Cemetery and the majority of the military memorials and monuments on the National Mall.

Each veteran has an escort or guardian go with him or her and, though they have a long day — beginning with arrival at the airport prior to 5 a.m. and return usually after 9 p.m. — veterans and their guardians consistently say they had an outstanding day.

The veterans visit the new World War II Memorial, Korea and Vietnam memorials, the U.S. Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington Cemetery to view the changing of the guard.

One of our former adjutant generals, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Raymond Matera, went on the May 19 Honor Flight out of Madison. He wore the Class A Air Force uniform he wore when he was still active. Matera told me he had a great day and enjoyed the trip — he was one of the first veterans off the plane. This flight left around 7 a.m. and got back at 9:17 p.m. They had great weather in D.C. yesterday, it was 79 degrees and sunny.

When the veterans returned, the main terminal area at the Dane County Regional Airport was essentially full again (as it always is) with a very large crowd of family and friends greeting the 89 veterans. It was to have been 90 veterans, but one died just before the flight — his daughter went in his place. US Air provided the aircraft, and the crew decorated the interior of the cabin in a patriotic theme.

The Honor Flight leaders usually ask for a Wisconsin National Guard general officer to see off and welcome back the veterans. At the morning sendoff we are asked to make a few remarks during a short departure briefing and then go up to the gate area to shake each veteran’s hand and wish them well on the trip.

Then at night our general returns to greet each veteran, thank them for their service and hand them an Honor Flight coin. It is an absolute joy to have the privilege to do this, and the gratitude and thanks the veterans have for their welcome home brings out the best of one’s emotions.

At the most recent flight, Chief Charles Tubbs of the Wisconsin Capitol Police and Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney were also on hand to greet the veterans as they got off the plane. A large number of veterans required wheelchairs, but there are always a large number of volunteers wearing yellow T-shirts ready and eager to assist them.

Another new element which I had not seen before, but may have been done previously this spring, was a large group Madison ROTC Army Cadets and 115th Fighter Wing members escorting the veterans down a corridor set up on the main terminal floor between the two sections of the crowd — a nice a addition and well done.

The Honor Flight program is an outstanding program that honors our living heroes, who each have a remarkable story of service and sacrifice. Without exception, every one of the veterans I have met at these events have been inspiring — they were dedicated to their military service and its mission, humble about their accomplishments, and grateful for the opportunity to come home after the war and live out their lives and raise their families in the nation they had served.

Do you know a World War II veteran? What can you share about their service?