By Reba Phelps
It started as a typical flight home from Austin, Texas. It was ladened with all of the boredom and monotony one would expect checking your luggage and making your way through the security checkpoint. After a four day conference with coworkers most of our home-going conversations included our extensive to-do lists once we arrived home.
Taking turns discussing all of the chores, family obligations and work to catch up on once we arrived home had all of us a little overwhelmed.
Once we had emerged from the shoeless pat down and scan from security we all reconvened on the other side to gather our shoes and belongings. While we were laughing and telling our exaggerated tales of the security checkpoint we heard a loud masculine voice commanding the attention of all of the passengers and employees in the airport.
“Ladies and gentlemen it’s our pleasure to welcome a distinct group of travelers with us today at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.”
Still not knowing what all of the fanfare was about, we stood still, not knowing what to expect.
“We have thirty five World War II veterans traveling with the Soaring Valor Program through the Gary Sinise Foundation. They are making their way to New Orleans to visit the World War II Museum, please stand to the side while they make their way to Gate 26.”
As fate would have it our gate was 25. So, we were already headed in the right direction. We knew we would have a front row seat to witness this historic and moving moment.
We stood eagerly anticipating the VIP passengers to make their way down the terminal. As we waited we heard the prominent and unmistakable sounds of bag pipes. The closer they got the roar of cheers and clapping overcame the instruments.
It is nearly impossible to put into words the emotions that were evident on every face watching the parade of Veterans pass being escorted by Color Guard.
Most all of the Veterans were in wheel chairs due to the long walk ahead of them and their various health conditions. They waved and cheerfully greeted all of the people pausing in their honor. Their faces held fragile smiles and history that could only be appreciated by the other veterans in their company. The hats they wore proudly displayed the many merits they received.
The Veterans were being escorted by a family member or guardian and a high school student from the area. The students looked just as elated as the Veterans. They waved and greeted the crowds and you could tell they were skillfully trained for this mission. They were attentive to their designated Veteran as if it were their own family member.
It was just a beautiful moment watching the soldiers being appreciated almost seventy-five years after the war ended.
Being the somewhat inquisitive soul that I am I followed them to their gate and watched them get prepared for their press conference. They were fussed over and pampered by their volunteers, the media and the airline employees. Making sure there was not a hair out place….they lined up the wheelchairs for the cameras.
It was truly a sight to behold.
As I made my way down there I met the coordinator for this extraordinary event and she informed me that she worked for the Gary Sinise Foundation and they were flying these veterans to the WWII Museum in New Orleans to record their oral history of the war. The program was called, “Soaring Valor”.
For some reason the name “valor” caught my attention. I then remembered a friend of mine using the term, “mighty man of valor,” when she spoke of her son and how brave he was.
Merriam-Webster defines valor as – strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness, personal bravery. Great courage in the face of danger.
Not everyone is born to be a valiant soldier or warrior but these men were.
Once I read the official definition of valor all I could think was….. these men, these mighty men of valor. Some had friends and family that did not make it home. These men are truly from the Greatest Generation. They went on to live somewhat normal lives and successful lives when they returned home. Our veterans are dying off every single day and we should be so happy that there is an organization whose mission is to preserve this rich history.
If you see a veteran, of any war, thank them for their service. It is a service that not everyone is called to and not everyone could survive.
“The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” Judges 6:12