By YVONNE JOHNSON, APG NewsOctober 15, 2009
The U.S. Army Materiel Command Band provided a musical greeting for five arriving chartered flights carrying World War II veterans during Honor Flight Network-sponsored receptions at Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport Sept. 26.
Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing cost-free transportation for American veterans who wish to visit the national memorials in Washington, D.C. - in particular, the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War memorials - that honor their service.
The band, led by Sgt. Maj. Wendy N. Thomson, serenaded the veterans with patriotic and World War II-era songs as they filed past to waiting buses.
Along with the band, a host of military greeters and volunteers were on hand to meet the flights. Greeters from Fort George G. Meade included Sailors from the Navy Information Operations Command, Airmen from the 7th Intelligence Squadron and members of Boy Scout Troop 379 along with representatives from the Civil Air Patrol's Fort McHenry Composite Squadron and from the airport's Transportation Security Agency.
In addition, Maj. Gen. Greg Schumacher, assistant to the deputy Chief of Staff, G-2, made a guest appearance to greet the veterans. He thanked Thomson and the band for participating in the reception.
"It was good of all of you to be here for these veterans," Schumacher said. "Thank you for what you do for our Army."
Thomson said musical selections included military branch themes as well as popular war tunes such as "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition."
"Music has a way of placing you back in that time," she said. "The veterans enjoy it and the Soldiers do too."
As the band played, Thomson turned around repeatedly to shake hands with the arriving veterans as they filed past.
Two-hundred thirty-eight veterans arrived on the four flights accompanied by 170 escorts, according to Bob Lowe, Miami Air station manager, which provided the transportation. The veterans hailed from Rochester, Long Island and Albany, N.Y., Detroit, Mich., and Birmingham, Ala.
Lowe said the receptions have a "profound effect" on the veterans and their escorts.
"It always brings tears to their eyes," he said. "They don't expect to have such a warm welcome by people who weren't even born when they served. They truly appreciate being remembered."
Honor Flight volunteer Bill Poteet said numerous volunteers work to make the receptions memorable for the veterans and their escorts.
"Our job is to be here to assist with their needs," Poteet said. "That includes arranging for wheel chairs, greeters, even oxygen tanks if they're needed, and providing them a path from the plane to the buses."
Even the BWI Fire Department pays tribute to the veterans, he added. Two fire engines face each other on the tarmac and provide a water cannon arch which arriving flights pass under as they taxi to the gate.
Along with the veterans and their escorts, greeters are moved by the event, Poteet added.
Wendall Lawrence, scout master for Boy Scout Troop 379, said it was the troop's first time participating.
"Some of our parents heard about it so we thought it would be a good idea to come out and show our honor," he said, noting that the event was in sync with requirements for earning the Boy Scout Citizenship badge.
"Being retired military, it's important to me that respect for military service is deeply ingrained in our children," he said.
Jake Kellogg, a second lieutenant with the Civil Air Patrol, said he was there because he couldn't think of "a better way to honor them."
"After all they've done for our country, this is my chance to give something back," he said. "It's an honor and a privilege to be here."
More than 90 percent of all monies donated to the Honor Flight Network go directly to supporting efforts to transport veterans to their memorials. For more information, visit http://www.honorflight.org.