CLAREMORE — (Writer’s Note: Among the recent Oklahoma Honor Flight of WWII Veterans were Claremore residents William C. Larkin and daughter Susan Smith. This is the third of a three-part series telling about their visit to Washington, D.C.)
Laughter and swapping old stories had filled the air since coming together the night before and then all day during our flight to and our visit in the Nation’s Capital.
This chatter ended temporally as the three buses loaded with the 104 Oklahoma veterans reached our final stop. Driving through the gates of Arlington Cemetery has quite a sobering effect. Seeing all the white tombstones in perfect straight rows was really something.
Not maybe knowing who or where, each one of our veterans realized a former service buddy or hometown friend was among the buried.
The national cemetery rests in gently rolling hills of Virginia a short drive from Washington, D.C. The snow white simple tombstones, each identical, against the green grass is hypnotizing to view. It is so peaceful and serene.
The group of veterans and accompanying guardians on our bus were very quiet as we approached a parking space. We had just missed the 5 p.m. changing of the guard. The next one would be 30 minutes later and so we waited.
We were joined by many other visitors. All were still as we watched the robot-like movements of the guard on duty. It was impressive.
The cemetery covers over 600 acres. We were told by our guide that during weekdays a funeral is held every 45 minutes. No reason is accepted for a funeral starting late. In true military fashion the service starts on time. There is no waiting for a late attendee, no matter what the reason.
Finally, after stops in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia, it was time to go home. On the drive back to the airport we passed the Pentagon.
Security was just as easy for the return trip as it was in Tulsa. It did seem funny that our group was able to move through the gates by only showing our IDs. At the next gate several active Air Force members had to remove their boots and be searched from head to foot.
Back in the air and all together again, we settled in to follow the setting sun back to Tulsa. Little did the veterans expect what was waiting for them.
You would have thought everyone would be tired and maybe some would sleep during the trip home. This wasn’t the case. Once again the veterans filled the plane with their chatter. The pilot offered to show a movie but was told it wasn’t necessary.
Back on the ground in Tulsa, Gary Banz, a member of the Honor Flight committee, informed us that we should all wait at the gate. He wanted everyone to be together before heading out.
There were some people waiting in the terminal that wanted to greet us, he added.
Since Daddy needed a wheelchair once again, we were among the last to depart from the plane. As we all started making our way to the main entrance we could hear hand clapping, people whooping and hollering, and a band playing.
There were people of all ages lined up on both sides of the concourse. Most were waving American flags or displaying posters. They were all there at 10 p.m. arrival time to welcome “their” Veterans back home. The lines of people stretched from the security gate clear out to the exit doors leading to the parking lot.
It was an amazing sight. So many of them were shaking hands with all the veterans. Others were hugging and kissing them. At the same time the guardians were being clapped on the back and thanked for their escort services.
Maybe time and the aging process has caused some of these veterans to stoop somewhat. Still, each and every one of them stood tall and proud as the on-lookers displayed their heart-felt appreciation.
This display was a wonderful way to conclude a trip that will hold a lifetime of memories for the 104 veterans and the 69 guardians.
The Oklahoma Honor Flight program is to be commended. Every detail is designed to make sure each veteran is guaranteed as enjoyable and safe trip.