Inside the 100th Honor Flight Columbus mission

Veterans Voices

On Saturday, October 19, 2019, a group of veterans took an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. to visit memorials dedicated to those who fought for our country. It was the 100th mission for Honor Flight Columbus. NBC4 photojournalist Jon Edwards went along to document the journey.

My Saturday morning started much earlier than normal. I arrived at John Glenn International Airport in Columbus just before 0400. Dozens of Honor Flight Columbus volunteers had already been there since 0200. (That’s military time for 2 AM)

After a brief meeting and organizing tables full of polo shirts and fleece sweaters, portrait photographers were setting up too.

By about 0500 Veterans started to arrive; we weren’t scheduled to leave for D. C. until about 0730. But most anyone that’s spent in the military normally shows up early for everything.

I was amazed at the organization of everything. Volunteers lined up and clapped for every Vet that arrived. A lot of the volunteers were veterans themselves, I met a few ROTC students from OSU. Many volunteers were just everyday people who wanted pay back our men and women who sacrificed part of their youth for freedom. I met a young lady from Delaware Ohio. She’s an EMT and said she volunteered once because she’d heard they were in need of medical personnel on these flights. Today was her 4th Honor Flight.

RELATED: Veterans return from day in Washington, D.C. thanks to Honor Flight Columbus’ 100th trip

I spent 6 years of my young adult life as a Photographer’s Mate in the U. S. Navy. Although I was trained to shoot on film and develop still images, I ended up shooting video stories in the Navy for a show called “Navy and Marine Corp News.”

Being the proud sailor that I am, of course I was wearing a Navy shirt that day and while carrying a large TV camera, I was the target of some ribbing from many who were in the Army and Marines.

One Army Vet kept asking me to put him on TV, so I told him to say “Go Navy” and I would. He said it, so he certainly made both pieces that aired on NBC4. (If you watch closely, you’ll see him in the video I included with this piece)

I’m glad I decided to hurry off the plane once we landed in D. C. I was amazed to see dozens of active duty Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. They lined the passage and congratulated every Vet as the exited the plane. The men’s choir from West Point sang military fight songs.

I had to bury my face into my camera and shoot because I was tearing up. It was one of the most beautiful moments that I’ve witnessed. As these men and women were walking through Reagan National Airport, everyone stopped what they were doing and applauded. I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes again!

Outside the airport in D. C., We were greeted by about a dozen American Airlines employees. They were all on motorcycles and were there to escort our buses to the various monuments. It was about 35 degrees and this was their day off.

Off-duty U. S. Parks Police led the caravan of 4 charter buses. Many times we ran red lights and went the wrong way down one-way streets. If you’ve ever driven through our Nation’s Capitol, you’d understand how important it is to have this kind of escort.

By 0930 we made it to our first stop, the World War 2 Memorial. Once again we were greeted by several Veterans and civilians on motorcycles. With the Washington Monument in the distance, the roar of the fountains here is amazing. We all seemed to take a self-guided tour around and take it all in. Many posed for pictures in front of the Ohio marker.

I made my way to the Korea War Memorial and was amazed at the attention to detail in the larger than life statues there. I listened in on a U. S. Parks Officer explain to a Korean War Vet that the 19 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines depicted have a meaning. If you position yourself at the right angle and look at the granite wall, you can see the reflection of those 19. 19+19=38.

The 38th parallel separated North and South Korea prior to the Korean War.

Being 52 years old, I’m much closer to Vietnam Vets. While in the Navy, many of my instructors and Shipmates were Vietnam Vets. I knew the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial would be moving. Several years ago, I did a story on the traveling wall. Seeing it in person is very touching.

It’s so simple, 58,000 names. I am not exaggerating, it’s difficult to leave with a dry eye.

My biggest regret was missing a great photo of 3 Vets spelling out O-H-I-O
using Washington’s Monument as the “I”.

I guess some photos are best etched into your mind.

After lunch next to the Lincoln Memorial, we stopped by the Navy Memorial and did a drive-by tour of the Air Force and Marine Memorials. We stopped by the Smithsonian for a bit too.

We had to be at Arlington National Cemetery by 1530. (3:30 PM)

We needed time to get everyone in place in time for “The Changing of The Guard” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Even for an old salty sailor, I thought that was impressive. It’s certainly a must-see if you go to D. C.

Afterward, we had time to check out the cemetery. Medal of Honor Marine Audie Murphy and Senator, Astronaut and Marine John Glenn’s grave is nearby.

We had dinner at the Women’s Memorial next to Arlington. By this time it was time to catch the 2000 (8 PM) flight back to Columbus.

Just like when we arrived, everyone clapped, cheered and smiled at the Vets as they walked through Reagan National.

When we arrived back in Columbus, hundreds of family and friends and strangers welcomed the men and women from the 100th Honor Flight Columbus mission. It was about 2100 by then.

After 6 years covering news in the Navy and more than 27 years hear at NBC4, this was by far the most memorable story I’ve covered. Honor Flight Columbus is a class act. If you have time to volunteer or have a few dollars to spare, Honor Flight Columbus is worthy in my opinion.

To donate to Honor Flight Columbus, use this link.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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