Honor Flight

Honor: (n.) high respect, as that shown for special merit; esteem.

Honor: (v.) to confer distinction on

May 21st met me at 3 am on a bus to Kansas City with several of my students, my two bosses, a few other volunteers, and about 12 veterans from our area of the state. Our mission was to get these veterans to Washington, D.C. so they could visit the memorials which portray a slice of the honor that is their due.

I could not be more proud to be an American after this trip. These men sacrificed many things in the war, whether it was leaving their new wife at home, traveling down a mountain with a broken pelvis on the back of a donkey, or seeing the majority of their squad or platoon die in combat. I am so thankful that they found it their duty to serve their country, for their sense of duty has contributed to each of the freedoms I currently enjoy. I look at my own generation and sometimes wonder if that sense of duty is still intact. What will our country be like in the future if it is not?

As we departed the plane in Baltimore, a tunnel of people, including a group of sailors in their dress whites, cheered for each veteran as he entered the terminal. More tears for this girl! Not only did I cry, but also I wanted to get out of the way and let these veterans have their spotlight. People were telling me thank you, too, but I didn’t feel that I was doing anything I wasn’t already obligated to do.

The day in DC started at the WWII Memorial, and our group took a photo in front of the Kansas column of the memorial and had a small ceremony where the veterans saluted a flag we bring along on every trip. We then visited the Korean War Memorial (half of our veterans fought in Korea), Lincoln Memorial, and Vietnam Memorial. Throughout the trip, strangers came up to shake the gnarled 80 or 90 somethings’ hands, but these men didn’t think they needed a handshake. They wondered what they had done that was so great; still, the heartfelt, earnest “Thank You, Sir” said it all. After the memorials on the National Mall, we made a brief stop at the Air Force Memorial, and I was able to help Elton (an Air Force Veteran) track down a sheet of paper acknowledging him as a charter member of that memorial’s construction. Then, we drove by the Iwo Jima memorial. The day ended at a nice county buffet restaurant, and once we got to the hotel, the veterans put themselves to bed before the students (their guardians on this trip) could even wish them a good night! Well, that is, MOST of the veterans. There were a few we found we had to keep an eye out for. Old age doesn’t always mean tiredness!

The next day, we went to Arlington National Cemetary to watch the Changing of the Guard. The veterans were ushered down into a special section to watch the ceremony. I thought it fitting that, from this location, the entire crowd could see the group of veterans in their matching t-shirts and red and blue hats. After the ceremony, as we stood waiting for the bus, one man walked through our group, barely holding back the sobs, to thank each veteran for his service. This intense, heartfelt display of gratitude from a complete stranger, of course, made me cry again.

Why is Honor Flight worth it? I don’t know that I can even name all the reasons, but here are some of the big ones:

1. This is a cathartic experience for some veterans. Perhaps they have never spoken about their experiences in war before. One of my friends said that on a previous trip, a man told him about seeing villagers in Korea die at the hands of his own unit and himself. He mentioned that he has lived with that all his life. It is likely he hasn’t spoken of it to anyone else, but in that place, in that time, with a sponsor he would likely not have contact with again, he was able to release some of that pain and sadness.

2. The experience shows the veterans just how much they are appreciated. I’ve spoken of the thank yous from strangers and applause at the airport. Our group also does a thing called “Mail Call.” At the supper on the first night, we delivered an envelope of letters to each veteran from school children. Elton received one from a high school girl he knows well, and he was thrilled to hear her gratitude. The group of veterans we took along from Wamego received letters from their families, which I also think is a cathartic thing. Isn’t it easier sometimes to express your appreciation and love in a letter? Especially to your gruff grandfather who has never spoken of the war? Or to your father, who you love dearly but have never been brave enough to talk more about the war because it makes him sad?

3. The experience can be intergenerational. I did a project on intergenerational service-learning in one of my Master’s classes, and I cannot think of a better way to put those principles I learned to use than with Honor Flight. I have always loved elderly people since I worked at an assisted living facility in high school. I love students and helping them discover new places. I love Washington, D.C. This is just right up my alley! Count on hearing more about it in the future. Our group (and several groups from Kansas) uses high school students as the veterans’ guardians. This is the best possible set-up. Kids learn honor, respect, history, compassion, and dedication, while the veterans are loved on, encouraged, assisted, and treated like kings for a day. I’ve not met many elderly people who don’t enjoy the life and spirit of high school students; I also haven’t met many elderly people as lively and energetic as some of these veterans. I actually had to help one of our students keep track of his 92 year old veteran, and we became fast friends!

4. It is urgent. Many WWII veterans will never see their National Memorial because they are dying every day. I wanted to take my former landlord from Coldwater on this trip, and I had called him a few times, left messages, but never heard back. I asked a friend about him to see if he had perhaps passed away and found that the week after I had made my last call, his obituary was in the paper. This man served in WWII, received the Purple Heart, and I heard several of his stories when I brought him in to talk to my Juniors about the war. He was very special, and I am sad I couldn’t honor him with this flight.

My grandfather is another example of the urgency of this project. He now has Parkinson’s disease to the degree that this trip would be impossible. If the veteran cannot get off and on a bus about eight times over the course of two days, he would not be able to attend. I wish I could turn back the time and take my grandpa from four years ago on this trip. He would have enjoyed it greatly.

 

I urge you to check out the Honor Flight program at http://honorflight.org/ if you are interested in helping someone attend, putting together a flight, or want to help out in any way. Honor Flights around the country are in need of funding, guardians, trip coordinators, and doctors and nurses.

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Invisible Children

My senior year in college, I watched a documentary about the Invisible Children of Uganda, children who were forced to spend every night walking away from their villages to a safe place where they wouldn’t be abducted by a rebel army who wanted to turn them into child soldiers. The documentary was quite inspiring because it featured three guys about my age who happened upon these children while they were on a filming adventure in Africa. It shocked them so much they came back to the US with plans to do something about it.

That was in 2003; I watched their documentary in 2005 or 2006; today, Invisible Children has grown into a non-profit organization that has been working hard to get the US and world governments to do something about the terrorist Joseph Kony’s reign via his “Lord’s Resistance Army.”  The LRA has been terrorizing Central Africa for 20 years, but these three young Americans almost singlehandedly brought the world’s attention on him, and the LRA’s power has been weakened significantly. You can track information about what is going on with this at another Invisible Children website.

Sometimes I wish I could go somewhere that far away and do something that big. Africa has been on my mind lately for a few reasons. . . our church is going to use one week’s worth of offering to build a water well in an African country, and I know a missionary couple working in Uganda who I’d love to visit. And, I’ve always dreamed about writing a book about Dr. Eva Gilger, a missionary woman from my hometown who spent 50 (FIFTY) years in Kenya, caring for orphans and starting a girls’ school.

Maybe I need to start planning a trip!

9/11

Since I don’t have TV (have I blogged about that? There’s an idea for a post. . . ), I listened to the memorial services held on Sunday on the radio. NPR had great coverage of the one in New York City as well as Pennsylvania. As I listened, I cried quick, heavy tears. I can’t fully explain where the tears came from, but I know a part of it was more than just my sappy, sentimental self. I can cry at nearly anything involving family members losing loved ones, and the people reading the names of their lost loved ones easily set the waterworks in motion. But, there was something else. I think it goes back to that day.

I was walking down the hall to my locker at my high school, a few weeks into my Senior year, on September 11th, 2001, when I noticed my English teacher, Mr. Phillips rush across the hallway to my Government teacher, Mr. Turner’s room, saying something like, “Gary, you have to see this.” I would later learn the first tower had already been hit, since it was an hour past 8:46 a.m. in NYC. I immediately sensed that something was wrong. Perhaps it was the tenor of Mr. Phillips’s voice. The next thing I remember was choir class, and I think we watched some tv. It gets a bit blurry ten years later. I’ll stick to the most vivid memories.

In Drama class, we watched the plane hit the second tower, live. I felt disbelief and then dread. The disbelief came from the action-movie impression that crash portrayed. I truly felt like it was some sort of Die Hard movie or something. Then, I realized I had just witnessed the death of many, many people, and I realized the crashes weren’t just crashes. They had been planned. I instantly felt a rush of anger sweep over me. The injustice! Who would do this? How could this be allowed to happen? What was next? Would this be World War III?

I’m sure throughout the day we were somber, questioning, and completely unable to focus on school work. I wonder how I would deal with a situation like this in my classroom today. By the end of the day, I loaded my stuff onto the bus to head to Jewell, KS for a volleyball triangular. I didn’t feel like playing volleyball. I had thought they might cancel it. Yet, I knew cancelling it would not make as much sense as going ahead. After all, we were so very removed from the East, and it wasn’t like we were in imminent danger.

On the way out of town, I witnessed my first and last traffic jam in Miltonvale. Everybody was parked in lines around T&T Service, one of the two gas stations in town. Somehow, they’d gotten word that gas prices would go up! I remember us girls staring out the windows in awe of so many cars downtown, and, I’m sure, with a new anxiety, seeing our parents and friends’ parents acting so strangely.

At the volleyball triangular that night, I reflected on how minor a role sports should play in one’s life. Winning and losing is so trivial compared to life and death, war and peace, the past and the future. I didn’t care if we won, and I don’t even remember now who won. I do remember the time in the lobby between games. A TV was on and there was live coverage on the news of the bombing of Afghanistan. The screen showed a grainy picture of an orange glow off in the distance, shining against a dark, deserted landscape. This was the moment at which I nearly panicked. All I wanted to do at that point was go home and be with my family. Apparently, we were at war with someone and from this moment on, my life wouldn’t be the same. At least, those were the thoughts of an almost-18-year-old farm girl from the middle of Kansas.

Looking back, the ways in which my life is different are quite subtle. There is more security at airports, but that has affected me exactly five times since 2001. Many of my peers, just turning 18 and possibly motivated by the attack, signed up for the military in the months that followed. Yet, only two of those were my classmates and none of those were my close friends. I am so proud of the men and women in my age group who pursued a military career during this time. They have been fighting a difficult, technological, new war bravely, patriotically, and sacrificially. They make me proud to call myself an American.

I think the greatest thing that changed for me after Sept. 11, 2001 was that I had a new appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes in our government. People are working daily to address the threats to our nation, and they don’t get noticed for their successes, but they get lambasted for their failures.  An article this past spring in Time magazine deepened my appreciation for these security officials. Reading the article was akin to reading a spy thriller, and I finished it in awe of how much we have to be grateful for to live in a country with people who work daily to protect us.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2068082,00.html

Tim Tebow

After discovering this guy about a month ago (I know, I know, he’s a bit legendary, but, hey, I don’t have a TV!), I’ve been so encouraged in my beliefs and values in life. He stands up for what he believes and seeks out ways to help people. He is who he says he is. Of all the males I’ve met in my life, the ones I respect and love the most are the ones who are who they say they are. I hope to marry a man someday who is who he says he is. Integrity. That’s what it is.

Lots of writers are focusing on how Tebow embodies what we really demand of our celebrities. We want to know what they think about issues, we want to see them stand up for their beliefs, and we want to see them be real. Tim Tebow is that. So much so that he has agreed to help Focus on the Family make a Super Bowl commercial about their organization.

This is really big in the news right now. Just google “Tim Tebow commercial” and you will find many, many interesting articles about it. Not only does the ad come from an organization many view as too conservative and right wing (too polarizing. . .go figure, a Christian organization is too polarizing. . .), but also the ad touches on the topic of choosing life over abortion. Now, it isn’t clear how much of a pro-life message is evident in the ad (since nobody has actually seen it), but if you read about how some of the women’s groups are responding, you would think this commercial is screaming obscenities at women who have chosen abortion.

All I can think about is how much we need to pray in this situation. Pray for Tebow, that he would be strong and continue to live in the world, but not of it. Pray for Focus, that they would be able to weather the storm of controversy and then the flood of business they receive after the commercial from families who need help. God is doing something big in our culture war with these events. Pray for all involved, and be encouraged in your beliefs!

Motivation

Why is motivation so difficult to come by sometimes? I probably have more pressing projects to finish in the next few days than I’ve had in several months! But, I just can’t seem to get started on some of them. And, the ones I start, I can’t find the momentum to finish. Part of it is probably due to the end of the holidays. And, for once, this New Year’s wasn’t an exciting one. I usually get all reflective about the previous year and then begin to think, dream, and plan for the next year, but I haven’t had any epiphanies or bursts of motivation. I didn’t even celebrate on New Year’s Eve because I was too tired from driving home late and unloading my car. I think I’m just getting older. :)

So, I guess I’ll channel some of my lack of motivation into production by telling you about some interesting stories I found when I was trying to find motivation earlier today (read: avoiding work by surfing the Internet).

CNN holds voting for a Hero of the Year at the end of each year. People vote to pick one of the ten do-gooders for the award. One story that really touched me was that of Jorge Munoz. He’s a bus driver in Queens who makes about $700 a week, but spends $400 to $450 per week feeding the homeless homecooked meals in the evenings–every evening of the week! And, he’s been doing this for four years–hasn’t missed a day. You can read the article CNN did by going here: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/03/19/cnnheroes.jorge.munoz/index.html

Another random story I found was that of Harvard basketball player, Jeremy Lin. He’s one of the .3% Asian college basketball players. His father immigrated from China in the 70s and taught his son how to play basketball at a very young age. Jeremy has been a stand out in the last few major games Harvard has had, and their season is going well. Lin has encountered quite a bit of racism from basketball fans, but he says he doesn’t let it bother him because he is used to it. That made me sad. I haven’t considered prejudices towards Asians due to my lack of interaction with them, but I now realize they also have to deal with racial issues. The article also pointed out that Lin is a Christian and will probably me going into the ministry after he graduates. This is the kind of news I like to hear about. Good people doing GREAT things!!

You can read more by clicking here: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1951044,00.html

Over break, we did watch Julie and Julia (though I think that’s the only movie I was able to cross off the list!), and I found Julia Child to be very fascinating. However, it seemed like the film didn’t have very many close up shots of Child. I wonder if this was because examining her face too closely would have ruined the suspension of disbelief. Anyway, it was a very interesting movie, with lots to think about concerning both food and blogging. I was a bit annoyed at how Julie literally idolized Julia Child. It almost got too sappy at some points. But, I digress. My reason for bringing this up was to tell you I found another “foodie” book (yes, that’s what they’re called) that piqued my interest: The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. This one is about a thirtysomething who loses her corporate job and decides to take off to pursue her lifelong dream of earning her cooking degree from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in France (the same one that Julia Child attended).

Well, have I provided you with some deviations away from your work? You should probably get back to work now. I’m going to bed!

Happy Halloween and Election ’08

One perk of being the Concessions Manager at the school: free leftover popcorn. Perfect for making popcorn  balls for Halloween! All I had to buy was the marshmallows for 1.89. It sure beats three $4 bags of candy! But, the kids don’t seem to agree (barring the pair that just rejoiced when I handed them the popcorn ball) because I’ve heard several moans and groans. [How Rude! Note to self: coach your kids on the proper responses, etc. for trick or treating!]

The election is heating up. That’s probably an understatement since it’s really been going on for two years! But, I’ve really been getting into it over the past few months. When the Obama craze was in full swing this summer, I decided to read “Audacity of Hope” via my car CD player while I traveled to and from Hays. He was very fair and balanced in everything he said. And, he covered nearly all the issues. But, he didn’t really stand up for one side or the other. He just ruminated on both and gave credence to each. I don’t trust the man. His convictions are quite unknown. His associations are questionable at best (Alinsky, Wright, and Ayers). His experience in executive leadership positions is weak. Go McCain!

As a 6th grader (and the nerdy editor of our school-wide newspaper “The Breeze”-in ’96, I got into elections for the first time. Of course, I wanted Dole to win. He’s a Kansan! And, I nearly cried as I watched Clinton give his acceptance speech. Then, I was mostly fascinated with the process and the concept of one person leading our country. Now, three elections later, I’m feeling a lot of urgency, not only for my own beliefs, but for our country. McCain MUST win. Secular progressives cannot be in charge of our nation. I try not to let the forwarded e-mails influence me much, and I always check facts, authors, affiliations, and biases I find in any article I read. McCain MUST win. I wish a lot of people were reading my blog, so I could convince them to vote for McCain. :)