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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 04/28/23 – A Friday Morning Honor Flight

Last week, I was in DC for a conference and some meetings. The next morning, before heading home I decided to take a trip over to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Air & Space Museum next to Dulles Airport. It is my hands down favorite museum. I had not been there for over a decade. About one third of their collection includes planes that can only be found there and a few I wanted to see that I had not realized were there the last time I went.

I got there right before it opened and joined a few hundred people waiting to get in. As we stood there, a staff member asked if anyone knew what an Honor Flight was and a few of us murmured yes. Then the staff member noted that these were vets and the mission of honor flight to get them out to see the memorials erected in their honor. He asked if anyone would mind if they went into the museum first. The crowd said yes in unison and these older vets, all in wheelchairs started to get pushed by volunteers towards the entrance. Someone up front started to clap, and everyone started clapping and cheering as these Korean and Vietnam vets went in. It was quite an emotional moment.

I suppose these things are fairly common in the DC area, in reading about the Honor Flight programs, it is not uncommon for in bound taxiing planes to be met by firetrucks in salute and cheering crowds everywhere they go. As I walked through the museum, I kept running into these vets in their wheelchairs and the volunteers who were helping them out. Everyone was deferential, opening doors and making room so they could get a good view of the exhibits, even the kids. Polite and respectful behavior that seems uncommon in this era. It got me to thinking that there may be hope for us in our fractured times. If we can still respect service, there is still room for us to find other common ground.

It was not my first experience with an honor guard. About ten years ago I was down on the National Mall at the WWII memorial. I was standing there when they started bringing these 90-year-old soldiers off the bus. You could see on their faces they were remembering buddies long gone and the things they went through. I will never forget that day seeing those men. You could feel the magnitude of what they accomplished for the world. They are almost all gone now. About 70 million people fought in World War II between 1939 and 1945 and, as of 2022, there are still approximately 167,000 living veterans in the United States alone.

The Korean and Vietnam vets are also aging. Their efforts generally get eclipsed by the WWII generation, so I was heartened by the response of those who walked through the exhibits with me last Friday morning. Everyone who serves deserves the respect and support from the rest of us. We don’t do enough for the men and women who serve us.

The museum itself is incredible and a testament to engineering and human bravery. I personally feel inspired when I consider the kinds of things people have done in respect to pioneering air and space travel as well as the use of these technologies to protect us. There are so many amazing things to see at the center.

One of the planes I had known about but had not realized was in the exhibit is the Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk. These light biplane fighter / reconnaissance planes were designed for launch and retrieval from two of the world’s first airship aircraft carriers. These airships, the USS Akron and the USS Macron where operated in the 1930s until they were both lost in separate accidents. The planes were started while inside the airships and launched from the hook on top as they were lowered under its belly. “Landing” consisted of pilots matching the speed of the airship and catching the hook. It can be seen in my picture and the archive photo I included. The emblem on the side is of two trapeze artists flying through the air. This pictured plane is the only surviving one in the world. It must have taken a great deal of skill to fly these planes from the underside of an airship.

The few hours I was able to take to see the exhibits and witnessing the honor flight were really special to me. I do not often get to spend time in this way. Grateful for the break. I learned things I had not known and got to reflect on aviation pioneers and our vets. When I contemplate what others have done, it puts some bounce back in my step and my own struggles and challenges in perspective.

We all need inspiration, and these are some of the things that inspire me. What inspires you? How do we stay inspired when we face a lot of struggles? For me taking a step back like I did last Friday helps me to stay engaged even when things seem overwhelming. The response from the randomly assembled museum attendees affirms for me the truth that most people are generally good and that we still share common values as a people. I am grateful for all of this.

What are you grateful for today?

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