“That’s the Power of Love”
- Huey Lewis
Dear Amazing Volunteer,
It seems as if we are still in the jet stream of the Field of Honor and the momentum from our autumn flight, yet here we go again! Saturday, November 3, we will bring Operation Resolve to an end having fully eliminated any wait-list for our aging heroes. Congratulations and please know that those relative few WWII veterans who sign up and still wish to fly with us will be welcomed aboard in 2013.
I am writing this memo as our film Honor Flight is cued up for the Naples Film Festival. Soon, the movie will come to Marcus Theatres throughout Wisconsin! Our goal is classic SSHF: we simply want millions of people, especially students, to see this film and change their lives. Forever. Then together they, and we, can change the world. Easy.
This December we will achieve another goal as the movie will also be shown in Washington DC for Congress and for the National Press Club. En route to DC our extraordinary story will premiere in NY and LA. You have asked when you can get a DVD copy – please stay tuned. In the meantime, you are invited to a special, complimentary showing and Red Carpet Premiere on Thursday, November 29, 2012 in Mequon. Debbie Krueger will be in touch with you with details and RSVP information.
As there is no ‘pause button’ at Team SSHF and just in time for Veterans Day, our team will be dedicating a replica of the Wisconsin Pillar at a special ceremony on the new Lakefront Park in our Hub City of Port Washington. The pillar will stand as an enduring and endearing tribute to our veterans, our freedom, and to you, our spectacular volunteers!
For now, we fly. On Saturday, our focus returns to the precious cargo of 80 and 90 year olds as we mark our four year anniversary in the presence of these amazing heroes. No doubt, this homecoming in particular will be an emotional one as we run through the finish line of Operation Resolve. Knowing time is fleeting, knowing this particular mission will end soon, we will, each of us, relish the moments in the company of our veterans and as a part of this team. Before the homecoming, we will stand with two special students, winners of our first essay contest, as they read a personal Eulogy for a fallen veteran in Arlington National Cemetery. We will also stand together again in front of the Freedom Wall and reflect upon the cost of freedom. In the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial we will be reminded of our 16th President’s immortal words:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Saturday, reaching through time, your nation and generations of the finest men and women this Republic has ever produced will ask of you just one thing: everything you have. I know you would have it no other way. Honor them with your generous spirit.
Hey, Let’s Fly!
First though, another thank you to ALL of you - our amazing volunteers! Miller Park: WOW! You rocked it! A World Record, the event of a generation – just as you knew it would be. Thanks for that. Thanks for your enthusiasm and energy and vision.
Now, we return to our primary mission as this Saturday we fly again; hosting 100 heroes en route to Operation Resolved! In November we will fly 200 more, then we breathe (a bit) and in 2013 we double down. Don’t we always? What next? We have ideas. Because of you we continue to dream big, always knowing you stand ready to deliver. More on all of that later this year.
First things first. I have been meaning to share a story from our April flight. A vignette as reminder of the broader impact this journey has on all of our veterans. It happened briefly, in the joyful hustle of our buses arriving at the WWII Memorial. Veterans and cargo were being unfurled all around when amongst the crowded excitement and buzzing near Senator Dole I caught site of the teenager.
If you glanced at his baby face you’d be forgiven to think “boy”. I did. Then, looking a bit deeper, I saw the man; first the patch on his uniform, then my eyes sweeping past the STRYKER logo to the empty space below his left shoulder. There, a gaping and sad vacuum - outlined and defined by the emptiness - stood as a virtual place holder for his recently blown off arm. Stopping in my tracks, we exchanged a quick and awkward smile and I was back to Honor Flight pace…running toward the group picture, knowing I was late. Then, feeling a bit otherworldly, I stopped and went back. Urgency tends to focus the mind so I jumped in and asked if he could talk about it.
“Just back from the Middle East,” the soldier said, and then he continued, “man, it’s amazing what you all do here for these WWII guys.” Mostly, I remember trying hard not to look where his arm should have been. Then, of course, I looked. Everyone looks. And he proceeded to pleasantly, bluntly, answer my inane questions with:
“IED.” “Ambush.” “F-ing Hell, Sir.”
Instinctively and way too quickly, I presented him with one of our SSHF Challenge Coins. He smiled again and thanked me with an enthusiasm beyond what I could have imagined. Buoyed by his gentle, honest spirit, I plowed on with the ridiculously personal stuff…he was all eye contact and genuine, happy to speak truth and we found ourselves talking as if we had been friends for a long time. Before leaving, I gave him that half over the shoulder guy-hug-thing and said: ‘You miss your arm don’t you?’ His response came through an S shaped smile - half happy half sad. “I miss my arm sir. I miss my friends too… I’m going back…I can’t stand the idea of someone getting hurt because I’m not there…we need each other.” And, off we went, to our lives.
From Miller Park to Mogadishu.
On Saturday, September 15, we fly. We journey, accompanied by heroes who know beyond our imaging what it means to need one another. Seventy years ago, these were the young men and women of war, of tragedy and teamwork. Let’s deliver for them. Let’s also remember that the teenage soldier I encountered last April will also be ninety some day. Our children and grandchildren need to be there for him. Teach them well.
I cannot begin to thank you enough. But, thanks anyway. We are successful because of you. We are Team SSHF.
Let’s Fly! June 2, 2012
The Obituary of Adolph Paprocki read like so many tributes: painfully few sentences, each phrase competing with one another in a losing battle to describe the enormity of a life well lived. More so, when the man is our hero; having served in the US Army as a teenager, then 70 years later, joining our merry band on a trip to DC . The Obit ends with a tip of the hat to Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. “His most meaningful day” the death notice said. Then this: “Every Day is a Bonus!”
Heading into Memorial Day, we think of the 4048 stars on the Wall of Freedom. We think about the Korean Memorial, Vietnam, Iwo, WWII, and those lives lost in the Middle East and elsewhere in honor of our Republic. And, the War to End all Wars: WWI. My Great Uncle died there. If you have seen the movie War Horse, you saw his ghost…in the scene with the Mustard Gas. Teenagers, trenches, terror. More recently, a Gold Star hung in Grandma’s window for her fighter pilot child. Paul David Wehrlick, giving his life for you and me, dying the very day his son was born.
Memorial Day is no stranger to you. As a member of Team SSHF your altruism stands as a clarion call for many others who watch and wonder at the magic of it all. The kindness of your spirit. This Monday, May 28 we will remember the fallen. Then, on June 2nd we once again play witness and guide in honoring those reluctant, peace loving warriors who are with us still. They are aging, tired, joyful and dignified. Some are remarkably strong. Still, I am always struck by the “weakest” among them. Last trip, it was an 88 year old, strapped for nearly 20 hours in his wheel chair. He was catheter and chronic pain. He was constant grimace - as loving arms loaded him on and off the bus. On and off again. And, again. Then, yet again. As the brave-hearted hero tried not to yell out with each bump and jostling, I thought two things:
How can he possibly do this?
Then, just imagine HOW IMPORTANT it is for him to be here!
At days end, following the Changing of the Guard at Arlington, I was met with the dusky reflection of the caring crew on the “Blue Bus” – all eyes on the brave-hearted…all hearts pulling for him. As he rose in the wheel chair lift for the final time that April 28 day, he smiled, white-knuckled on the arms of his chair, clearly in pain and an immensely good sport. He winked at me and yelled, “What a day!” Then above me, he disappeared…pulled backward by helping, anonymous, selfless hands emblematic of you. Niceness personified. A SSHF Volunteer. It was one moment in a day of moments …another one for the history books.
Mr. Brave-hearted died five days later.
Now you see them. Now you don’t.
Last week, his family sent a note:
“THANK YOU HONOR FLIGHT FOR THIS MARVELOUS EXPERIENCE – our Navy man was NEVER happier…he has reached his summit!”
We responded with a picture of our hero in DC and a “Thank You” on your behalf. In the salutation, we closed with the obvious for such a gentle, tenacious, wheel chair bound shipmate:
On June 2nd we fly again: TWO 757’s en route to Operation Resolved. Prepare yourself team! Steel yourself for the joyful chaos. Twenty hours of the wild-ride SSHF experience…followed by a life time to remember.
You never know what five days might bring…