Honor Flight Races Against Time to Say “Thanks” to WWII Vets
Jun 30, 2017 06:00AM ● Published by Marjorie Turner Hollman
Bellingham’s Jean Weidman Bradley with her father, Bob Weidman
Franklin WWII veteran Al Lewis and Korean War veteran Bob Weidman recently traveled together on an Honor Flight from Logan Airport to Washington DC. Both men traveled with their sons, Steve Lewis, a firefighter in Franklin, and Patrick Weidman, owner of Grove Street Auto Repair.
Like many other veterans, neither Weidman nor Lewis was looking for accolades. It took persistent requests from their children to persuade the men to agree to participate in the event. Both Steve Lewis and Jean Weidman Bradley described the reluctance of their parents to take part in this event. Jean changed her father’s mind when she finally insisted, “You have to go, Dad.” Steve Lewis shifted his dad’s mind when he offered, “How about if I go with you?” But afterwards, both Weidman and Lewis spoke of the entire experience as beyond description.
Honor flights transport by chartered plane 60 veterans, each with a personal guardian, on a whirlwind one-day trip from Boston to Baltimore airport and back. From Baltimore, they are taken by bus with police escort to the WWII memorial, then Arlington National Cemetery, where they witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After these two stops they visit numerous other memorials in Washington DC before returning that night to Logan.
But the trip itself is only half of the story. From the moment these veterans arrive at the airport, they are greeted by bands, flags, family members, friends, the entire Fire Brigade at Logan airport, Police, Boy and Girl Scout troops, and excited fellow travelers, all eager to wish them well.
Upon their arrival in Baltimore, volunteers for Honor Flight New England (part of the national Honor Flight network) were waiting to greet the veterans again. Al Lewis spotted the crowd waiting for them in Baltimore and asked his son Steve, “What, again?”
Steve’s response: “Get used to it, Dad.” Steve overheard another veteran say, “Now I know how Frank Sinatra felt!”
Bob Weidman noted that this response was quite different from the one when he returned home from Korea, where he had served as a medic in the Army. “Back then there were maybe twelve people waiting on the dock,” he recalled. He pointed out that as Honor Flight participants, they did not have to wait at all. The police escort helped them make their way through Washington with little delay. Everything was extremely well-organized, and each step of the way was well thought out and professionally arranged. “When I was in the Army,” he recalled, “my memory was of standing in line forever. This was a very different experience!”
Weidman’s son, Patrick, noted, “I will always remember the hug my father gave me at the end of the night when I was dropping him off in the driveway. He thanked me for going with him, and I said I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. He said to me, ‘I know you’re busy and you didn’t have to go, so thank you.’ I was really looking forward to this flight and the experience, and I thanked him for letting me go to share this with him. There aren’t many of these veterans left, and word needs to be spread about this no-cost honoring of our veterans.”
The veterans and their guardians were each given an “Honor Flight” jacket and shirt to wear for the trip. Weidman said that most veterans also wore a cap noting the branch of the military they had served in. But Weidman carried another hat as well, which had belonged to WWII veteran and Franklin resident Ralph Hoar, who died this past April. Weidman took Hoar’s hat with him on the trip and placed it at the WWII memorial, then took a picture of it to present to Hoar’s widow, Lois.
Lewis was accompanied by not only his son Steve. Another son, Dan Lewis, also of Franklin, had gone to DC a few days before the Honor Flight with his children, Zach and Casey. On the day of the event Dan surprised his father at the WWII memorial, and then joined the Honor Flight veterans as they visited at Arlington Cemetery as well. “It was important for my children to see a piece of history,” Dan said. “The reception at the airport was crazy. Dad’s usually a man of few words, but hasn’t stopped talking about it. He also hasn’t stopped wearing his Honor Flight shirt, probably five days out of every seven. This was a great event.”
Weidman noted that “mail call” was especially moving for him—near the end of the tour each veteran’s name was called, and they each received a packet of letters that had been sent in advance to Honor Flight New England. Besides the multiple letters from family and friends, Weidman received letters sent by his daughter-in-law Sue Weidman, who teaches at the Benjamin Franklin Charter School. She had had her students write letters, which were given to Weidman at “mail call.” Weidman noted, “Some guys had very few letters, but I had a huge collection. That was probably the best moment of the day for me.”
Weidman’s daughter Jean pointed out, “If anyone wants to support this effort, you can mail letters to ‘any soldier,’ and they will be given to veterans who might not have received as many letters.”
Steve Lewis was so impressed with the experience that he is determined to make sure other area veterans are able to have the same opportunity his dad had. He hopes to persuade the Franklin Fireman’s Union, the Franklin Police Union and the Elks Club of Franklin to work together to support sending six veterans each year. “We can do this,” he said. “We’re losing our WWII veterans, and as the Honor Flight folks say, “We’re in a race against time to say ‘Thank You.’” He continued, “We will be glad to support Franklin area veterans, but really, we just want any veteran to have the chance to participate in this.”
To learn much more about Honor Flight New England, visit www.honorflightnewengland.org. Photos from Lewis’s and Weidman’s Honor Flight are at the website under “April 30, 2017.”