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Perry column: Veterans deserve star treatment

By Robin M. Perry
Special to the Post
I have always had a great love, respect and passion for my elders. Perhaps it began growing up in Chicago with a really cool grandmother nearby who worked at Marshall Fields until they found out she was 80 ó and they let her go. So she went across the street to Lytton’s department store, and worked there another five years. My paternal grandparents, Iowa farmers, made trips there each summer magical. I was convinced my grandpa couldn’t possibly bale all that hay without me. Grandma lived to be 101, a real inspiration in so many ways. Time spent with them was priceless. I sensed that for as long as I can remember.
I just enjoy the company of older folks. Some of my best friends are in their 80’s. I love listening and learning from them. Fortunately for me, I get to be with seniors every day through my work at Home Instead Senior Care.
Five years ago, I had the honor of putting a trip together for my father-in-law and father, both veterans, to see the newly built WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. Seventeen family members convened in D.C. from Illinois, Indiana and North Carolina to see the monument that would finally honor those from the “greatest generation” who fought to preserve our freedom. It was an incredible time, with lots of tears and cheers as we watched hundreds of vets examine the monument, read the words, see the stars, with strangers exchanging knowing looks, and widows leaving flowers. Even the youngsters in our group went up to many vets to just say thank you for your service and sacrifice.
This year, I was blessed again to be part of Rotary District 7680’s Flight of Honor on Oct. 20. I was a guardian on the John Hanford Memorial Honor Flight that left Charlotte airport with 102 veterans on board, plus guardians, medical personnel, Salisbury Post staff, and a great USAir flight crew. You never saw a more excited group of octogenarians. We all were almost giddy, having no idea how truly amazing the day would be. The send off in Charlotte had flags and soldiers and bagpipes and more flags. Everyone wishing us well. The vets were thanked again and again. They were amazed.
My three veterans were wonderful. I have become very fond of them and will always consider them my vets. Carl Hobbs was in the 79th Infantry of the 3rd Army, one of Patton’s, as a rifleman. He was wounded in France and awarded two Purple Hearts and four Battle Stars. He served from 1943-45 and returned to Rowan County to work at Cannon Mills. He and his wife live in Mooresville now.
Lee Bradley was in the Navy Air Corps serving on the USS Franklin in the Pacific as a gunner on a torpedo bomber. He said they spent time chasing Japanese subs. He came home and had a career with the Highway Patrol and the Sheriff’s Office here in Rowan County. He married Betty and they live in Salisbury.
Don Carter was in the Army, first in the 87th Infantry and parachute school at Fort Benning, then the 541st Parachute infantry and the 11th Airborne Division. He jumped out of airplanes some 16 times, in the Philippines and Japan. He came home to work at the furniture company that became Summersett Funeral Home. He married Margaret Summersett while in the service.
All three could attest to the truth in the famous quote-“war is hell.” Yet they served, leaving home at the ripe age of 18 or so to return to waiting families, wives or girls. Some returned to find their “girl” hadn’t waited for them. They went back to work or started new jobs, with little notice or fanfare.
The trip to the WWII Memorial tried to make up for the lack of gratitude these fellows and women experienced some 60 years ago. They fought for the freedom of the United States of America. They won. We need to remember, freedom isn’t free.
We were all astounded by the reception we received everywhere we went in D.C. that day.
At Reagan Airport, it was overwhelming. The Falls Church Concert band was playing all the armed services theme songs, a row of flags and servicemen and women stretched as far as you could see down the corridor. Sen. Bob Dole was there to greet us, as his wife Elizabeth and sister-in-law Bunny Hanford were all part of the special flight. Elizabeth Dole donated to the flight to make it a memorial to her dear brother, John, who was in the Navy during the war. People were shaking hands and thanking each and every vet all along the way.
I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t even raise my camera to take a picture.
Our four buses were led through D.C. by an escort of about 45 motorcycles, the members of the Rolling Thunder, then a police escort. We did not stop for one red light the entire day.
Time at the WWII Memorial was awesome. Box lunches, talks by Elizabeth and Bob, and John and Jody Hanford, John’s sons, were heartwarming. The demonstration by the Marine silent drill team was amazing. Did you know those rifles weigh 11 pounds each?
A young Marine let Lee and Carl hold his rifle ó the admiration on both sides of the gun was tremendous.
Viewing the Memorial ójust looking in awe ó at the beauty of the place with the Lincoln Memorial off in the distance one way, the Washington Monument standing strong the other way, against a most azure, cloudless sky. Reading the words, seeing each state represented, seeing each of the 400,000 lives lost represented by the wall of bronze stars ó all made it a time of great joy and sadness ó of honor and remembrance. I truly believe every citizen needs to make the trip to D.C. to see this tribute to our vets. Why, we even found that Kilroy was there. He left his mark in the granite too, as he did on almost every front touched by the war.
The Iwo Jima Memorial provided more memories for many of these men and women. I was amazed at the sheer size of the monument. It is much bigger than life.
The changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery was another highlight. When I looked out on our crowd ó many seated on the steps, many more making a long line of wheelchairs, to watch these dedicated men guard our unknown soldier with perfect precision, without ceasing ó it was a heart stopping moment.
And just when you think nothing could top all this, we land in Charlotte airport about 8 p.m. to another throng of soldiers, Boy Scouts, ROTC and friends, cheering and waving flags. Bagpipes again played “Amazing Grace.” More tears through the smiles.
I was thrilled to have my husband, Rick, and daughter Raegan there to meet us. Raegan brought folks from the Republican Club at her school, UNC-Charlotte. After she told them about the Flight of Honor, they want to have a fundraiser to sponsor a vet on the next Flight of Honor. That touched my heart! They got to see first hand how much such a donation will mean.
These vets were overwhelmed by the reception all day long. So many told me they never even had a thank you when they got home from the war. They didn’t really expect one though; they just went back to work and tried to not think about the horror they had been through. Life had to go on as “usual.”
Veteran’s Day is a Big Deal to me, a time when we need to thank and remember all vets from all wars and conflicts. Today’s soldiers are putting their lives on the line every day; wives, children, parents and friends are praying for their safe return.
Thank a vet today, especially. I will definitely be calling my vets, and my dad and father-in-law. And whenever you get the chance, listen to their stories. Time is priceless.
Rotary is planning another Flight of Honor for next April. Donations are needed to help make these flights possible. It costs approximately $500 to send a vet on the flight. (They pay nothing.) For more information or to make a donation, go to www.flightofhonor.org or call 704-718-7908. What a great Christmas gift that would be, to donate to Rotary Flight of Honor in honor or memory of a loved one!
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Robin Perry is community service director for Home Instead Senior Care. Contact her at robin.perry@homeinstead.com.

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