Whirlwind adventure of Honor Flight turns awe inspiring

Local Air Force veteran Joe Aguilar (middle) sits in front of the Air Force Memorial in Washington D. C. with two other veterans.

Photo and story by Ray Conner

Say what you will, but the blessing of experiencing the Honor Flight does leave you speechless.

This adventure started in Bakersfield and ended in the same location. A quick hop to Washington D.C. to honor veterans across the history of their service to their country. 

This flight even had a local veteran selected to join Honor Flight 49. Joseph “Joe” Aguilar of Bodfish was a Vietnam-veteran that served in the Air Force.

It was a gathering of angels ready to get on their wings and fly to remembering the life they once led. The logistics of the flight to the average person would seem insurmountable. But the Honor Flight group having done it 48 times before had worked out the kinks and the task at hand went smoothly. With all 96 veterans and their guardians all seated on the plane, it was time to set off to rejoin the past. The amount of people on the trip was close to 200 when you included the guardians, the media, and those running the show.

Rolling down the tarmac, Honor Flight was treated to a water salute on both sides of the plane. As we lifted off, it was time to settle in for the trip across the country. 

The whispers of the veterans getting to know each other and in some case like me their guardians, floated throughout the plane. Cruising altitude was attained and the plane came alive with movement as the passengers moved about. Some scrambled for the bathroom, other to see their friends that were making the trip. Those running the flight came together to make sure they were all on the same page. 

Arriving in Baltimore, the passengers were whisked to the busses to make their way to D.C. Color coded lanyards moved the progression to the right buses, four in all making their way to the hotel they would be staying at for the two nights.

I know, so far not the exciting stuff, but I guarantee that is to come. Room keys distributed, buffet meal under our belts, it was time to grab some sleep for the events of the next day.

After breakfast, it was back to the buses where muster was held on each bus. This was done to make sure no one would miss the excitement that was building for the anticipation of the first day of Honor Flight 49. It was going to prove to be a busy day as the plan was to see eight places in roughly 11 hours.

The U.S. Navy Memorial was first up where a smattering of Navy vets and some guardians that also served in the Navy visited the memorial of their service. I am a U.S. Navy vet and I too took this memorial to heart. A short time later in was on to the Archives. This building hosts all the important documents this country was founded on. To see them in their original state sent you back to the beginning of this country.

The next stop definitely would pull at the heart strings. Arriving at Arlington National Cemetery and the history it includes, sent shivers up the spine. From the time you make it to the grounds to the time you leave you are reminded of the sacrifice fellow Americans have made in their service. The rows and rows of headstones, marked out to show the graves of the brave reminded you of all the loss attributed to the wars this country has been through.

After stopping to honor the Army vets at their memorial a somber approach to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was at hand. The eeriness surrounding the scared area was evident to all. The veterans on the trip lined themselves up for the 24-hour, 365 day (except leap years that make it 366) continuing guarding of the tomb. The men and women that are called to serve in this way have their life laid out for them. They are trained to have the number 21 in their heads at all times. From the 21 steps in front of the tomb to the 21 minutes they are to perform this duty. 

The changing of the guard ceremony left you in awe with their precise moments attribute to all that have made the call to defend this piece of history and the remembrance of a soldier that gave his life. The buzz on the busses after getting the chance to see this incredible legacy was humming just like the wheels of the bus going round and round.

A quick pop in to the Women’s Veteran Memorial at Arlington was next as on this trip two from this group were given an honor listing them to this memorial of those brave women that fought along the men for their country.

The FDR Memorial, a place of cascading water and his gift of thoughts through words was where a box lunch was served. It reminded me of school field trips as a youngster.  

Back on the bus and muster accounted for, it was time to roll on this whirlwind excursion. The next stop was the Iwo Jima Memorial. Just driving up to it left you opened-mouth in amazement at the detail and the significance of the statues. It is a piece of history that gave this country the reality of winning a war over tyranny. With the flag fluttering in the wind and the men depicted it left you proud to be an American. The visible emotions of some of the Marine veterans was evident. Some of their fathers, brothers and other family members were part of this miraculous piece of history on Mt. Suribachi.

The last sight of the day was the Air Force Memorial. There were many on this flight that served in Korea, Vietnam, and what was signified as the “Cold War”. This group took their pride in one of the newer memorials to Washington D.C.

With the sun setting, and the whole platoon of Honor Flight emotionally exhausted and physically drained it was time to end this day. The bus ride back to the hotel gave the veterans, and all others a chance to remember and to reflect on what they were seeing and their place in this spectacular showing of American History.

See Next week’s edition of the Kern Valley Sun for Part Two of Honor Flight 49