Editor's note: Joe Dean is the founder and former president of the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. He is writing on behalf of himself, not the Honor Flight.
There really is no understating this: they saved the free world. Seven decades ago, our fathers and mothers our grandfathers and grandmothers, pulled together in the most remarkable show of teamwork this country has ever known and they saved the free world. Often afraid, they took the fight to Hitler and to Hirohito. From Iwo Jima to Normandy, to the Battle of the Bulge and far beyond, on the seas, in the air and in hand to hand combat these reluctant warriors, answered the call of a war-weary world.
Freedom met evil.
Freedom teetered precariously in the balance.
Thanks to them, freedom won.
In light of these amazing sacrifices, the closing of the memorials in our Nation’s Capitol stands as a particularly juvenile insult. Sadly, it also smacks of a remarkable naivete; a careless disregard and a truly enormous act of disrespect for our veterans and for our collective history.
Having participated in many trips with our veterans over the past five years I feel compelled to share with your listeners what it is like to round the corner onto 17th street in Washington DC as we approach the WWII Memorial. As our entourage approaches, the veterans lean - like 90 year old school children - pushing their noses up to the glass of our chartered buses. Charlie, it's like Christmas morning. They yelp and cheer, whooping it up and generally acting precisely like the 18, 19 and 20 year olds they once were - and in so many ways, still are. Then, as the central fountain at their memorial and the Wall of Stars comes into view…
...as the enormity of their seven decades wait sinks in…
...as the memories flood over them…
...As they think about their band of brothers who died, fighting the good fight…
The tears begin to flow.
Soon, the aging heroes hug one another, walk with each other and begin to open up, many for the first time in their lives, as one story after another is whispered and shared and honored at the Memorial built to honor all who served in WWII. The healing is palpable.
They are Marines and Airmen, Waves and Wacs, Navy Corpsmen, Coast Guard, Seabees and soldiers. They are the finest men and women I have ever known.
And, there is simply NO WAY a mere bureaucratic barrier - - a barrier born of a bad idea in clean, safe, offices -- will ever stop them.
I am reminded of a quick conversation I had in the midst of a downpour - in a deluge of rain - on one of our 20 hour trips. I recall, apologizing to one of our vets who appeared to be especially old and, well, bent and spent.
Putting my arm around him, I said, "Sir, sorry about this rain, we don’t control the weather." Charlie, he grabbed my arm with the strength of a Marine. He was all Semper Fi ; eye contact and toughness and he said:
"Son, I spent 45 days up to my waist in rainwater in a foxhole in the South Pacific, THIS AIN’T RAIN!"
We laughed a long time together, then and for the remainder of that trip.He died one week later.
This Marine had been to his summit, received his honorable homecoming and had been reunited with long lost family and friends.
In this light, it is hard to imagine anyone ever agreeing to close the monuments and memorials built of, by and for the people.