Reader's View: Trip with WWII heroes an honor

November 10, 2013 

In September, I had the distinct honor of being asked to join 26 of America’s greatest to attend their World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. I and 18 other people were “guardians,” and helped wherever needed for these heroes.

These men (average age 93) had never seen this memorial dedicated to them. They were amazed, excited, humbled and very, very grateful.

Our plane was slightly delayed, so we all (vets, guardians, family and friends) waited patiently near our gate. Behind me, I could hear a very quiet harmonica starting to play — then a couple more joined in (these were vets).

Shortly after, we all joined in singing old songs, and finally capped it off with “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The applause was uproarious.

We boarded to the singing of the Boise Police Department singers and passed under the crossed swords. I’m sure no one had a dry eye.

Our first day in D.C. started at 6 a.m. We saw the Vietnam, Lincoln and Korean War memorials. We then saw the Iwo Jima Memorial. (One of our heroes was 99 years old and witnessed the flag raising on Mount Suribachi.) We saw the White House, Capitol, Pentagon and Ford’s Theatre. After lunch, we visited the Air Force and Navy memorials.

Our final destination was Arlington National Cemetery. Four of our heroes were able to lay the Idaho wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the changing of the guard. An unbelievable experience — to say the least.

The next day, we awoke at 3 a.m. for our return trip to Boise. This roundtrip was a grand total of 43 hours. The heroes were fantastic during the entire trip. It was we “guardians” who were exhausted.

Of my many highlights, my favorite was getting my copy of Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation,” autographed by all the heroes. It will be one of my prized possessions.

Upon arriving back in Boise we were again honored by the Boise or airport fire department with them shooting their “water cannons” across our “bow.” Apparently this is only done on very, very special occasions.

When we started to deplane, we were greeted by many people at our gate. As we proceeded toward our final destination, the throng got larger and larger.

Once into the waiting area it seemed most of Boise was there to welcome us home.

Our final exercise was to receive American flags and acknowledgements from our leader. As each hero stepped forward he saluted. I tried to assist the ones that were a little “shaky,” but they refused and said they wanted to walk by themselves. I was really amazed and choked up — to say the least.

Many, many thanks must go out to some people, way too many to mention.

But I have to mention Southwest Airlines, who provided free tickets to all vets. The Warhawk Air Museum for all their tremendous support. My own personal thanks must go out to Heart & Home Hospice — without their financial support I would never have been able to join these veterans on a most remarkable journey. I’ll never forget it.

God bless America.

Larry Gaukel lives in Caldwell.

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