- - Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Local bands, home-made signs, cheers, parades and countless American flags greet the members of each Honor Flight leaving Fort Wayne, Indiana. People drive more than an hour to attend the send-off and arrival of heroes they might not even know. But it doesn’t just happen in Indiana. It’s happened in small towns and big cities all across America every month for the past several years.

The last time my family and I greeted an Honor Flight at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., a group of teens with several adult chaperones approached us. “Are you here to greet the Honor Flights?” they asked excitedly. They were a senior government class that had driven two hours in order to greet whatever Honor Flights came in that morning. It was an annual tradition for the class and after we chatted for a while, they quietly lined up on either side of the walkway and waited for the heroes to arrive. The arriving buses weren’t heroes from their own state, but it didn’t matter. They were there to honor the Greatest Generation.

The average age of the last group we greeted was 92 years old. As each sweet veteran walked or was wheeled toward the World War II Memorial, students in that senior government class began to applaud and cheer. The veterans’ eyes lit up as they passed the cheering young people and they waved, smiled and shook hands with them as they went through. It was incredible!

The Honor Flights are organized and funded by volunteers. The Greatest Generation is dying off quickly, so the mission is an urgent one. Each veteran has a sponsor who helps them with each step of their day-long journey and many of the sponsors are veterans’ family members. I remember one son pushing his father’s wheelchair toward the memorial telling me through tears, “It’s almost like a welcome for me too, since I never got one after Vietnam.”

It’s amazing to greet them as they arrive, some for the first time in D.C. and most for the first time to their memorial. What strikes me each time is their matter-of-fact view of what they did. These heroes were barely old enough to drive when they went off to war, yet their unbelievable acts of heroism and valor saved the world! Without fail, they respond to my words of thanks with answers like, “I just did my duty. We all did.” “Never lose faith in America.” “It was nothing. Times were tough, and everyone did their part.” Their words of advice are always priceless: “Don’t forget to be strong and good.” “Do your duty and always honor that flag.” Saying “Thank you” is the best thing to do, and yet it seems so insufficient.

As each small town holds its send-off rallies in the local high school gym or forms a welcome parade at the airport to celebrate their returning heroes, these American patriots are inspiring our nation again. They’re reminding us of simple truths unchanged by time: patriotism, faithfulness, loyalty, duty, honor, respect and commitment. They remind us of an even greater truth: America has been the great light of the world because of the goodness of our people. Alexis de Tocqueville summed it up well when he wrote, “America is great because she is good; and when America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

I believe that the Greatest Generation has one last lesson to leave with us: The truth about America is not found in the history books, but in our people. In spite of the efforts of academia to downplay America’s greatness or convince students that their country is guilty of some warped version of invented crimes, there stands a silent witness to the actual events of the past; a witness who lived through it and who knows the truth of the past. That living witness is the Greatest Generation. The World War II heroes of our families and communities are living testaments to America’s goodness and greatness. In the face of untold danger and evil and in spite of their youth, they took on the task of righting the ship, accepting their duty and saving the world, one brave act at a time. The proof of their sacrifice and goodness is in the freedoms we enjoy and the abundantly prosperous America they left in our care. The best chance we have to continue that freedom is not to rewrite history or even to ignore it. The best chance we have to continue to live in freedom is to follow their example.

Yes, we face great challenges today, but so did each generation before us. It’s time to take ownership of this legacy. As we pay our final respects to those who remain, let us remind ourselves of their goodness and commit ourselves to the same. So, I’m “Just Sayin’,” let’s heed this last lesson by rekindling the American spirit and facing our own challenges with the same courage and goodness of the Greatest Generation.

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