Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Leaving Arlington for Iwo Jima - ("Honor" part 4)

This is the fourth in a series about my day helping with WWII veterans participating in the Honor Flight program. To see the first post, head over here. I encourage you to consider helping with this wonderful program while we still have time to honor our WWII veterans!

Upon the completion of the Changing of the Guard, many of the tourists who had watched drifted away, while many of our vets lingered for a minute, watching the new guard as he began the slow march that would take him through the next hour. We still had about fifteen minutes to look around before our buses left for the Iwo Jima Memorial.

We crossed the street to see the mast taken from the U.S.S. Maine. The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor, began the Spanish-American war back in 1898. In 1905, prior to sinking the ship completely with full military honors, the mast was removed for installation at Arlington National Cemetery as a Memorial to those who died in the 1898 battle. On the way up a small incline to see the Mast, were three stone monuments off to the right. Those three commemorated the Shuttle Challenger, and two others, which I am sorry to say I was unable to see as I escorted another vet to the Mast instead.

We also took time, like many others, to linger before some of the graves in that area, reading the headstones and talking about who was there. We saw graves for an infant daughter, a man who had been not only in WWII, but also in WWI, two mass graves (one was for the men who tried to help rescue American hostages in Iran,) and many in which the spouses had been buried alongside the fallen military members. Our Columbus guardian told us that one of the men on our bus knew his father was buried in Arlington, but had never seen his father's grave. The Columbus guardian had told his local guardian to take a few minutes to help the man find the gravesite - when will he ever get the chance to see it again? I don't know if the guardian helped him or not, but how moving to know your father is there, but never to have seen it.

After about an hour in total, we boarded our buses again, were offered more ice-cold water (those poor vets had water coming out of their ears! But it was all to keep them safe and comfortable), and headed out for our next stop. On the way out, our lead guide asked if we had any former SeaBees on board the bus. He wanted to know whether they had looked like the man pictured in the SeaBee Can Do Memorial found on the roadside on the way into and out of Arlington - he joked that they all said they looked just like the man in the statue when they were younger. The vets appreciated the military camaraderie and humor just as they had in their younger days!

The Iwo Jima memorial was far less crowded when we got there. The road up to the Iwo Jima Memorial winds around and around and around while you get to the place for buses to park! Teasing our Marine vets on board, the head guide for our bus pointed out that the WWII Memorial has it's own permanent bathroom facilities, while the Iwo Jima Memorial has only port-a-potties. The vets all chuckled at that joke too - then many headed over to use them. I suppose, in a way, it is fitting that the Marine Corps would not provide a cushy place to go at their memorial, especially seeing that they pride themselves on being tougher than all the rest! But an 80-year-old tushie might have appreciated something (if you'll excuse me here) ... cushy!

With that poor joke to sustain you, I end this fourth post, in the idea of keeping them still readably short... More in part five (how many posts does it take to get in all the details of a day? Five so far!)

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