This past summer my sister and I had the opportunity and privilege to volunteer as Kansas Honor Flight Guardians for Korean and Vietnam War veterans. The Kansas Honor Flight is an all-volunteer organization that works to honor veterans of World War II, the Korean, and Vietnam Wars by providing them with an all-expense paid, a three-day trip of honor and remembrance to their memorials in Washington, D.C. During our three-day trip, my sister and I learned so much about our nation’s history and even more about the sacrifices our troops have made for us today. My veteran was Bob Burton, he served during the Korean War in the Navy serving for more than a year, where he spent six full months underwater in a submarine. We flew into Baltimore, Maryland where we spent the night and would travel an hour to Washington D.C. to officially begin our tours. While we were at the capitol, we drove around the city getting to see the White House, Peace Monument and many other beautiful buildings there. Before touring the Korean, World War II, and Lincoln Memorials we stopped at the National Archives where we were able to see the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. After that, we observed the memorials; here we were able to break off from the group with our veterans and walk around at our own pace. It was incredible to see all the memorials and the detailed work that went into them. Walking around you could feel your heart get heavy and see the veterans get emotional as they think back to their friends they lost and the tragedies that they witnessed.
We ended the day at the Arlington National Cemetery, wherein those 624 acres countless soldiers have been laid to rest from the Civil War up till the most recent. In the cemetery, we were able to witness the changing of the guards at the Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers which is a monument that is dedicated to U.S. service members who have passed away without being identified. The tombs are guarded by two guards serving 24-hour shifts, and they are guarded all 365 days a year no matter the weather or holiday. A Tomb Guard is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the military.
We were able to sit front row witnessing the precise and routine changing of the guards. Four of our veterans from the trip also had the honor of presenting the tombs with a wreath. This part of our tour was my favorite by far because of the strong meaning, incredible pride, and heart that you could feel there. We flew back to Kansas on Friday and arrived in
Wichita to a giant welcome-home parade that was much overdue for our veterans. People from the community and veterans’ families lined up at the airport with signs, posters, music, and cheers as we welcomed home our veterans. This experience is one that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It was an honor to donate just three days of my summer to assist a well-deserved veteran in letting him view a memorial that honored him and all the sacrifices that he made. My gratitude for our veterans is unmeasurable. I encourage others to go outside their comfort zones and learn more about our country and those who have served in the military. It’s a lesson you’ll never take for granted.