It’s not something I’m particularly proud to admit, but I am not an especially patient person. My impatience is more pronounced when I travel. I bristle at long lines. I find other travelers annoying, and generally I don’t like crowds. When I travel, I like things to go my way.
Last week in Washington, I found myself struggling to enter my hotel following a morning stroll. A charter bus was parked at the curb, and scores of elderly passengers were disembarking – very slowly – claiming their luggage and then making their way – very slowly – into the hotel lobby.
Barely suppressing my impatience, I noted that nearly all of the passengers (soon to be my fellow hotel guests) were wearing polo shirts emblazoned with the logo, “Honor Flight.” I assumed these folks were a part of yet another group visiting Washington to see the sights. Perhaps they were in town for a reunion.
My curiosity got the better of me, however, and as I rode up the elevator with a younger woman, also wearing the polo shirt and carrying what appeared to be a medical bag, I asked her, “What is this Honor Flight thing, anyhow?”
The woman explained that Honor Flight is an organization that brings World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial – free of charge. Honor Flight arranges for these members of what Tom Brokaw famously called the Greatest Generation to travel together as a group from their home states, all expenses paid, to see the recently completed war memorial (let’s face it) before they pass on.
Many of these aging vets were hunched and stooped. Others were in wheelchairs. Some had oxygen kits to which they were tethered. Perhaps half were entirely sound of body. Yet Honor Flight provides medical support, equipment and staff to ensure that all can travel to the memorial without concern for their physical condition. The buses are equipped to handle wheelchairs. They have the details covered.
The elevator reached my floor and I embarked down the long and winding corridor towards my room. Along the way I encountered two elderly gentlemen exiting their own room, each wearing the now familiar Honor Flight polo shirt, and each wearing a camera around his neck.
They were chatting amiably in raspy voices, sharing a chuckle as they ambled somewhat stiffly towards me.
I gave them a smile and a polite “Good morning,” and each replied, “Good morning, Sir.”
And then it hit me as I entered my room.
These wizened guys who were so proper as to call me “sir” were my dad’s age and, like my dad, had served in the military during World War II. They were so like him in many other ways, as well – moving a little more slowly, but still fully mobile. Perhaps a bit less active, but still happily traveling. A little harder of hearing, a little less vigorous. A touch more fragile. But there they were.
I closed the door behind me and went to the window of my room. Ten floors below the last of the Honor Flight vets were collecting their bags and making their way into the hotel lobby. A few were being assisted by the hotel staff and the bus would soon pull away.
Next week at this time Honor Flight will have completed its latest mission. This group will have visited the World War II Memorial. Flags will have been presented and photos taken. These veterans will return to their homes with a feeling of accomplishment and some sense of closure.
Those of us already given to impatience should not delay. Memorial Day will be here soon. If your parents have passed on, honor their memories. If they are living, visit or call them without delay.
Let this Memorial Day be a meaningful one for our veterans, for their families and for families everywhere. And for the children of aging parents, let it be a reminder simply to treat our fathers and mothers with the patience, courtesy and compassion they deserve.
It is true that most of us do the best we can, but generally we can do better.