I was traveling alone from Buffalo to the Florida Keys, and the first leg of the journey had me transferring planes in Washington, D.C. I don’t like flying into D.C. The approach over the water and the whole hub of government just make me nervous. However, I got there safe and sound, only to find my flight to Charlotte had been canceled.
At first, I experienced a jump of anxiety. It figures, I thought. This is D.C., after all. I rushed to the service desk to find out what had happened. It turned out the flight was held back in order to service the plane. OK, so maybe it was a good thing I was not going to be on that plane. I was easily rescheduled on a later flight.
But now I had extra time in D.C.; just what I didn’t want. It was time for an attitude adjustment. First, I had no reason to be anxious; the alternate flight left a bit later, but it would still get me to Charlotte in plenty of time to catch my connecting flight. I was still annoyed.
While rushing past multiple gates to the customer service desk, I had noticed a three-piece band setting up near Gate 38. I thought it might be a good place to hang out and wait during the delay.
As I settled in listening to the Blue Jazz Band play “Thanks for the Memory,” the fanfare started to build. First, two huge bunches of balloons arrived, and were placed at the entrance to the jetway. Then came people carrying flags. They were followed by eight handsome young men in dress uniform, an honor guard! Soon someone came up to me and offered me an American flag. The crowd grew.
Next came a storyboard sign announcing that the band, along with US Airways and the Honor Flight Foundation, were joining together to honor World War II veterans. TV cameras and photographers appeared everywhere.
The plane that was due to land at Gate 38 was filled with veterans, and all of these people were here to cheer and applaud them.
Standing near me was a woman about my age, also waiting with anticipation. I turned to her and smiled. She told me her father was a World War II vet. I nodded my head. “So was my Dad. He was a lieutenant, 517th, Army Airborne.”
I thought of the shadow box at home housing his and my mother’s picture, along with her wedding ring and his Purple Heart. The pictures were taken on their wedding day in Georgia in 1943. She was wearing a simple suit and he was in uniform; so young, so handsome. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted.
A spitfire of a woman, old enough to be a World War II veteran herself, was running out of the jetway waving a large American flag, dancing and yelling, announcing the first vet. He was in a wheelchair, assisted by a younger man, who was his spitting image. The crowd erupted. Everyone reached out to shake his hand and thank him for his service. I did the same. I couldn’t help but notice the wheelchair, the age spots, the hearing aid and the thin skin. But then I saw his big smile and his bright eyes as tears rolled down his face.
The parade continued, one at a time, as each vet deplaned. Some were in wheelchairs, some walked with a cane and some walked on their own. Men and women, all of a certain age, all proud.
As I cheered them on, I felt a warmth building in my heart, and my eyes welled with tears. Suddenly, I was grateful to be delayed in D.C. at Gate 38. New attitude!