Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The few, the proud...

It's 9:30 on Saturday night.  Baggage claim at our airport usually has a fairly sparse crowd (generally just one or two of the 6 carousels running at once), but now it's PACKED.  A sea of people spread from wall to wall, with barely enough room to walk between one another: Scouts, young adults, families towing kids in strollers.  Grizzled Marines sport motorcycle jackets emblazoned with "Leathernecks".  Color guard members proudly hoist the military service flags.  Banners and posters wave in the air, calling out "Welcome home!" and "Thank you for your service!" in bold letters.  Almost everyone has a flag in hand.

We wait, instruments in hand, young and old together.  Gray pants and red polos intermixed with sharp crossbelts and plumed hats.  Even though it's Saturday night, even though the football game just ended a couple hours ago, we are here.  Suddenly a buzz runs through the crowd and our director starts to wave his baton.  They're here!  They're coming!

Everyone starts peering toward the escalators trying to catch a glimpse as we start to play.  "Caissons", "Anchors Away", "Marine Hymn", "Air Force March", "Semper Paratus".  I can barely see over the crowd but every few minutes I spot a wheelchair or a gray head proudly wearing a service branch hat.  "Military Medley, again," our director shouts and off we go some more!  "Caissons", "Anchors Away", "Marine Hymn", "Air Force March", "Semper Paratus".  A few times I'm lucky enough to catch a giant smile and eyes lit up with joy as a wheelchair or some unsteady legs with a cane come down the escalator to their first glimpse of us.  Mostly it's a blur of "Military Medley, again!" or occasionally "Navy Hymn!" "Stars and Stripes!"  Even a few "Sloopy!"s.  A small gap.  Then... "one more vet!" Our director cranes his neck toward the escalator, looking for a clue to the service branch... "Air Force!"

A lady gets on the loudspeaker and asks for a moment of silence.  The bagpipers quietly start the moving strains of "Amazing Grace".  We all sing "God Bless America" and then...

Tap, tap, tap.  We form up to march out: first the young, the "real" band.  We alumni fall in step behind them and together we snake through the crowd, yelling along to the familiar cadences we share.  Now we can really see everyone.  Volunteers and families and vets with grateful eyes reach out to us and say "Thank you!"  "Thanks so much for being here,"  "It means so much!" as we march by.  I think of my two Marine grandfathers and straighten my back with pride as I pass.  I just wish they could have been able to experience this.

This is a returning Honor Flight, a new addition to the long list of gigs we play at, and my new favorite for sure.  As members of a band with military roots and as regular American citizens, we are proud to be a part of saying "Thank you" to those who so deserve it.


  1. I could feel the excitement in the air with your descriptions. What an amazing event to be a part of. I know the vets really appreciated this welcome.

  2. What a nice celebration to be a part of!

  3. How wonderful that you participate in this - our service men and women deserve to be welcomed home and thanked for the sacrifices they make so that the rest of us can be safe.

  4. I love that you shared this. I have a family full of military veterans, many who are gone now, but I appreciate each person who does this duty. Thank you for doing this for them. Your description is full of excitement all through.

  5. I love that you do this. As I watch news reports of these honor flights, I often think about being a companion to someone who is going. You've inspired me to look into it!


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