OTTAWA — A healing spirit was evident during the veterans’ Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., last week.
Many of those veterans came home to feelings of hatred, despite putting their lives on the line for their beloved country.
Some carried that bitterness in their heart for years. That animosity melted away with their VIP treatment in the nation’s capital. The vets were greeted with ovations and handshakes of thanks for their service. Their guardians gave them the VIP treatment as they carried their bags and supported them each step of the way.
At Reagan National Airport in D.C., the veterans were welcomed by Honor Flight attendants from the national organization. The airport staff announced over the speaker system the Kansas Honor Flight had arrived. Those waiting for flights divided into two lines and gave them a rousing ovation as they walked through the sea of supporters.
“Wonderful...we had a better reception at the airport than when we came back from Vietnam,” veteran Donald d’Augereau said. “It gave me goosebumps. That really got me.”
That patriotism rubbed off on the young guardians as well. Adam Herdman, who was the guardian for his grandfather, Richard Ryan, said this was an opportunity to pay tribute to the veterans, which did not happen decades ago.
“It is really cool to take the veterans and show them they are appreciated even though we may not always be the best at showing that,” Herdman said. “When they came back from Vietnam people were rude to them, spit and threw rocks (at them). We can apologize what has happened in the past, even though it was not specifically us. We realize the sacrifice they made and how beneficial it was to the growth of our country."
Another huge hit was mail call. The Honor Flight organizers contacted each of the veterans' family members to get them to write letters to the veterans. Grade school students also wrote letters of thankfulness. The mail was presented to each veteran after Monday’s dinner in a VFW hall.
For d’Augereau, who’s guardian was his granddaughter, Nakita, and Ryan, those letters melted away those feelings hidden in their hearts for decades.
“I got a bunch of mail,” d’Augereau said. “How did all these people know I was coming here? (Nakita) said, ‘I have all their phone numbers grandpa.’ From Nebraska and Texas. That was really neat.”
Ryan thumbed through those letters one-by-one on the airplane back to Kansas. Even handing one to Brian Spencer, the Honor Flight organizer, showing him an example of why this trip meant so much to the veterans.
Herdman saw another side of his grandfather.
“He is a lot more emotional than I thought,” Herdman said. “He does not show it a lot. On this trip, I noticed him showing it. It has been an experience that has brought us closer together. It connected my grandpa and I more than I thought it would.”