Honor Flight Maine Makes Its Bittersweet Journey Home
The WWII monument in Washington, D.C. is massive.
Its open fountain and wide, circular promenade are encircled by 56 stoic pillars, one for each state and territory. It has a wider arch on opposing sides, symbolising the Atlantic and Pacific theatres.
Monumental Challenge of Overcoming the World’s Worst Evil
However, one little lady created a massive shadow on the monument’s stone on an October morning.
Florence Smith is 100 years old and counting. The Jonesport native smiled and shared tales. She cracked jokes as her wheelchair was placed between the wheelchairs of two male soldiers, one from Korea and the other from Vietnam, for a portrait.
A Rose Between Two Thorns
That weekend, she was a rose. Smith was the only WWII veteran among the 109 veterans and volunteers. Many of whom were also veterans, who went to the capitol for Maine’s last Honor Flight of 2022.
She was in the Coast Guard. She knew precisely where she was on June 6, 1944, when word of the D-Day assault went around her post.
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Flight of Honor Maine is a non-profit organisation that generates funds each year to organise many visits to Washington, D.C. throughout the spring, summer, and autumn.
Florence got a ride on the final trip of the year, so she got to view the monument for the first time.
“I’m really grateful I got the opportunity to come and be a part of this because I never, ever imagined I would,” Florence remarked.
Military Women’s Memorial in Arlington
That may have been beyond her wildest expectations, but the Military Women’s Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, may just as well be Florence’s home.
She was a supporter of the memorial even before it was built. When she came back on Saturday, she and her granddaughter, Stacey Balicki, a former Air Force combat nurse, were greeted as heroes.
“It’s very remarkable to witness it with her and see both of our names, with me being retired and her being a World War II veteran,” Balicki beamed.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the vets on the tour had fought in the Vietnam War. Their feelings were much more divided when they neared the black-walled memorial that spans far over the ground near the Lincoln Memorial.
Stanley Pelletier Went Down the Brick Sidewalk
“I nearly didn’t go,” he said of the whole Honor Flight. “I suppose knowing I was going here was the hardest thing for me.”
The Center for News Maine met Pelletier before the flight on Friday at Portland International Jetport.
The Vietnam veteran had never wanted to view the monument to those murdered in the fight. He never wore his veteran’s cap until his wife persuaded him to do so six months before the trip.
He shook his head at the sheer number of names engraved in the wall’s dark stone. He had no knowledge of anybody who had died. Instead, the 58,000 names loomed over him like a single wave.
“I can’t believe how many names there are,” he replied gently. “You hear about it, but unless you see it for yourself, you don’t comprehend how many there are.”
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Some monuments are notable for their size. Others are notable for their setting.
Visitors to the huge capital park walked through a small grove of trees on the other side of the Vietnam Wall.
They are from the Lincoln Memorial to reach the impressive Korean War memorial.
Nineteen stainless steel figures, dressed in ponchos, march across a freezing landscape. During the fight, soldiers were subjected to freezing conditions.
A veteran of the Korean War named Verian Beebe said that the monument showed how soldiers lived when they were in action.
“They certainly did their job, and they had to cope with chilly conditions,” he observed. “They had to go through Hell on Earth to win that war.”
People to Connect
Some people went on vacation to heal. Some Mainers discovered the names of relatives and friends at the Vietnam Memorial. They etched them from the stone onto paper to take home with them.
Some people came to connect. While Pelletier’s visit to the wall did not complete him, his weekend was filled with smiles and laughter with his fellow Vietnam veterans.
Some, like Florence Smith, embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime journey. She went to the Military Women’s Memorial and saw the World War II Memorial for the first time. At the Military Women’s Memorial, she shared the spotlight with her granddaughter.
Everyone else will remember their time with Florence and her big belly laugh for a long time.
She has no intention of leaving anytime soon.