Hey there! Yes, I’m still here. I’ve been volunteering all over the Mall as usual. I just haven’t had time to blog. I know you have missed me.
So, today found me at Korea, where I would be filling in for another volunteer who usually greets the Honor Flights. Honor Flight started as a way to bring World War II Veterans to DC to see the World War II Memorial. It’s a fantastic program. Now that it’s been in existence for about 10 years, may of the flights are starting to focus on also reaching Korean War and Vietnam War Veterans. The last Honor Flight of the day actually had 80 Korean War veterans, and only 8 WWII veterans. It’s usually the opposite. I had only made contact with 5 of the coordinators, but I knew it was going to be a busy day.
There were 13 Honor Flights that came through, starting at 9 AM and ending at 4:15 PM. Most of them were early, and they were all large groups. I sat down twice during that time, for a total of probably 25 minutes. Other than that, I was walking through the Memorial or up to Lincoln to meet a group. I have never seen Korea so crowded! It was awesome.
Well, let me back up. It was awesome to see so many people visiting the memorial. There are a LOT of people who don’t know why there is a Korean War Veterans Memorial. They have never heard of the Korean War, and they don’t know when or why it happened. I’ve been asked if it was about oil. I do my best to explain it to them in the context of the Vietnam War, which they have all heard of.
Days like this are great. I love seeing the veterans and their guardians getting to see their memorial. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Korean War and its veterans. The reason for that is probably twofold. First, I grew up watching M*A*S*H, partly because Alan Alda is a relative of my family, and I’ve seen every episode more than once. I used to have them all on VHS tape, painstakingly recorded night after night while I was in high school. I threw them out when I moved from my last apartment to my condo, and I could kick myself over that.
Second, when I started volunteering year-round on the National Mall, one of the first Rangers I met was Gil Lyons, who was a Korean War veteran. I used to volunteer every Friday (at the time I was on a 4-10 shift, so I didn’t work on Fridays), and I was often assigned with Gil. I’d listen to his stories for hours and hours, and watch him interact with his fellow Korean War veterans.
But days like this are also tough. One of the reasons I love volunteering is because I get to meet so many veterans and their families. I listen to their stories and learn a little bit about them. I want to remember them all, so I can tell future visitors about them. And that’s just hard to do when I talk to literally thousands of people in a day. I have a better memory than most people, but it’s still hard on a day like today. But, if I made the day a little better for the veterans, that’s OK. I will remember a few stories and pass them along to future visitors.
So, I started my day walking down the Reflecting Pool, because I knew there were some newbies on the Mall. The first baby ducks of Spring have hatched, and I wanted to see their fuzzy little butts as they swam around the Reflecting Pool. I found a few families in the pool, and one with some teenage babies on the grass.
Pictures done, I headed to Korea. My first Honor Flight was already arriving, 30 minutes early! After a quick pit stop, I headed out to the memorial. When I walked to the top of the key, I saw a veteran sitting alone on one of the benches. He had his hat off and his head in his hands. I watched him for a few minutes to make sure he was OK, and when he picked his head up, he wiped tears from his cheeks.
I gave a little talk to a group of veterans from his Honor Flight (Bay Area, California), and as another volunteer came over with photos of the memorial in the snow, Ray walked over with his guardian and joined our group. He tapped me on the shoulder and told me he served with the Marines in Korea, and the statues looked so real to him. I asked him if it would be OK to take a picture, and he was kind enough to agree.
I was glad he was smiling by this point. He then got in a picture with the other Korean War Veterans in his group.
These were the only 2 photos I was able to get of the Honor Flights. It was nonstop busy all day, even when I went inside for lunch. It rained on and off almost all day, but that didn’t stop the crowds. In addition to Bay Area, I saw Honor Flights from Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York (two), Houston, Florida (two), Coastal Georgia, Iowa, Southern Indiana, and another group I can’t remember.
As busy at it was, at one point during the afternoon, I was able to get one of my favorite photos, which is super hard to get.
I love that, not only are there no people in the way of the inscription, there are also no people in the reflection in the wall. I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to accomplish that before in 12 years of trying. They’re washing the wall tomorrow, so that mark under the R in FREE will be gone.
Oh, and shortly after it first started raining, I ran into a French couple. I looked up at the rain, and the husband said, “Il pleut!” (French for “it’s raining.”) I smiled at them and said, “Oui!” Well, after that, I got to practice a little bit of the French I studied for 9 years way back when. Surprisingly, I remembered enough words to tell them to marche à travers le pont to get to Arlington National Cemetery sur leurs pieds, and that it would take vingt minutes. And I offered them une carte, which they gratefully accepted. I did warn them I only spoke un peu Francais, and they laughed. It was fun, and always nice to realize how much French I remember and can still pull out when needed.
And, of course, there were some memorable conversations:
Bay Area Honor Flight Veteran: Well, you know, I’m Italian, and that means my family was in the Mafia.
Me: Yes, my grandfather used to tell me that all the time.
Veteran: My family is related to Al Capone.
Me: My family is related to Alan Alda.
Veteran: Oh, that’s so much better than mine!
Me, to Pearl Harbor Survivor Veteran from one of the Florida Honor Flights: Thank you for your service, sir!
Veteran: Thank you for saying that, that is so kind!
Me: Of course. Sir, are you warm enough?
Veteran: I’m OK. I have hot chocolate. And she’s taking care of me.
Guardian: He goes to all the ceremonies at Pearl Harbor every year. So this is a little chilly for him.
Me: Yeah, I thought I might be able to wear my capris today, but I needed long pants, unfortunately.
Guardian: Well, he grew up in Hawaii, so he likes it hot.
Me: You grew up in Hawaii, and you left?
Veteran: I met a woman.
Me: And she wouldn’t move to Hawaii for you?
Veteran: Would you have moved to Hawaii for me?
Me: I would move to Hawaii for you right now.
Veteran: OK, let’s go!
Me: I’m serious, give me 2 hours to go home and get my dog and I will meet you right here and we can go.
Guardian: See that, Bill, you didn’t think this would happen today, did you?
Visitor, after I finished a talk to one of the Honor Flights: Might this be one of the corpsmen? *Points at a statue*
Me: Yes, he is a corpsman. He has no weapon, if you notice.
Visitor: That’s what I thought. Dad, come here, this is the corpsman.
Visitor’s Dad: My brother was a corpsman in Korea.
Me: Well, I am glad you were able to come here to see this memorial.
I was talking to another visitor when the dad walked back over to me.
Visitor’s Dad: My brother was a corpsman in Korea until he was captured and shot.
Me (and the Ranger standing next to me): I’m so sorry to hear that, sir.
Visitor’s Dad: He was with a group and they were all captured and shot. I didn’t know that until a few years ago.
Me: Well, I am glad you were able to come here and remember him. I’m sorry for your loss.
Wisconsin Guardian, after I had given a talk and told them there was a dog etched in the wall: *Points at a Chaplain* Is this a person?
Me: Yes, that’s one of the Chaplains.
Guardian: Oh, OK, because it’s hard to tell, and I am a dog person, so I really want to see the dog on the wall and get a picture of it.
Me: It’s down on the end panel. Here, let me show you.
Guardian: Why is the wall so shiny here under the dog?
Me: Because everyone wants to know where the dog is, so we spend all day pointing to that spot on the wall.