Meeting World War II veterans who participated in Honor Flights

Have you ever fallen asleep with your eyes hurting because of so many tears you had shed? November 3, 2012 was one of those rare days for me. It was not surprising that this happened. Let me back up and explain what led me to that day.

In my September 2012 marketing blog post,  I mentioned about Google Alerts I began using to find World War II veterans on a daily basis – in the hope that I can introduce them to my website via a YouTube video at www.ThankYouVeterans.net. For this marketing effort, on average, I spend about three hours each day. (I noticed a significant increase in the number of articles as Veterans’ Day approached. So I was spending about double the usual time for a few weeks leading up to November 11, 2012. More leads through these articles mean more veterans I can reach. So I am happy to oblige.) For each article related to WWII that comes to my attention, I either post a comment or write to the reporter, asking him/her to please relay the message to the veteran(s) mentioned in the article about my two-minute video.

Within a few days of starting this habit, I began reading about Honor Flights. The very first article I read was called, “Honor Flight Hits Home Run at Miller Park; Breaks Guinness World Record (PHOTOS)” by Zach Dean. Having lived in the greater Milwaukee area for 12 years since arriving in the United States in 1972, I was thrilled to read about it. Imbedded within Mr. Dean’s article was another article about Stars and Stripes Honor Flight which, in turn, contained a short YouTube video of some of the WWII veterans. The title of the video is “Honor Flight – Official Trailer #1.”  I was so moved by their words, I was in tears.

Everything in life is about cause and effect. We owe our freedom to those who perished defending it and to those who survived with their painful war experiences and memories intact – so that future generations (we) may live free and in peace. I feel the sadness and pain of the families who lost their loved ones in the war; or of those whose lives were forever changed due to the scars of the war. As an adult immigrant from Japan, the knowledge that much of their pain and loss was caused by Japan’s military is more than I can bear.

After reading the Zach Dean article on Honor Flights, I realized that others have already been trying to reach out to WWII veterans on a much bigger scale. People have been donating money so that these veterans can take an all-expenses-paid trip to and from Washington D.C. to visit the WWII and other memorials there. What a fantastic idea! This is precisely the type of heart-warming initiative Americans – those who are free to think for themselves – would come up with and implement. We are in the midst of political, social, and economic turmoil. Yet the concept of Honor Flights reminded me why I love this country so much. Soon, I found out the origin of this program at Honor Flight Network.

In September 2012, I made a proposal to Honor Flight Network asking for support. I mentioned that I would be willing to pledge to contribute $1.00 for every paperback copy of my book sold between now and August 15, 2015 when the world will be celebrating the 70th anniversary since the end of WWII. On a per-copy basis, $1.00 represents 24% of my net profit. My request went unanswered. I was not about to give up on the idea, however.

During one of those daily routines with Google Alerts, I read about a Grand Reunion Celebration to be held for Honor Flights out of Biloxi, Mississippi. So I wrote to Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight (MGCHF), the organizer of the Reunion. I explained to them that I would like to give a 10-minute speech and thank the veterans personally – if they would allow me. I also mentioned that, thanks to my author friend, Ms. Julia McCoy Pavlicek, who believes in my mission, the flight to and from New Orleans (the nearest airport to Biloxi) for David and me would be sponsored by Southwest Airlines.*

*Disclosure: We own some rental properties in Gulfport, located west of Biloxi. We invested in that area after Hurricane Katrina. Due to the economic decline, however, we have cut way back on our visits there. This trip was to also give us an opportunity to check on them and talk to our property manager. The rest of the story about these investments will be covered in a sequel to my autobiography. The final title is yet to be determined.

About two weeks after I made the proposal, I received a call from Ms. Jodi Bowers, Vice President of MGCHF. She gave me the news that the board of MGCHF had accepted my proposal. I felt an instant affinity to her – shared by heartache, stemming from the effects of WWII. Jodi and I cried on the phone, sharing each other’s war stories, passed on to us from our respective family members.  Jodi explained about the anguish she experienced in the relationship between her grandfather and her parents. Her grandfather was a World War II veteran. He stopped talking to her parents after they purchased a Toyota, a vehicle made in Japan. I cannot do justice to her emotional story the way she expressed it. What I do remember is that her grandmother told her about seeing vividly the face of a Japanese pilot, who had just bombed Pearl Harbor, because he was flying so low as they were leaving the area, and that she would recognize him if she saw him.

Nine days before the event, the Southwest flight reservations were all set – albeit as standby passengers. That’s when I received another call from Jodi. She said that the board suggested I might want to sell copies of my book at the event and autograph them. Wow, how gracious of them! I still had 79 copies in stock in our garage – from attending book fairs in the Midwest. Quickly, David and I had to think of logistics. Shipping them would cost extra, possibly both ways depending upon how many we do sell. Because of the economy, we have been watching every penny we spend.**

**We are “investors.” But we are not like what most people think of “investors,” such as the Trumps of the world. We are former W-2 wage earners who chose to become “investors” in order to take control of our retirement funds – after the 2000 stock-market crash – so that we don’t have to continue relying on pension and Social Security income as we get older.)

MGCHF Grand Reunion Celebration – Program

In any case, David and I decided to drive to and from Biloxi instead. That way, it wouldn’t matter if we sell none, some, or all of the copies. They would be in the car with us. Jodi’s call turned out to be a god-send in more ways than one. The numerous flight cancellations and delays, caused by Hurricane Sandy, would have made it nearly impossible for us to get to the destination on time as standby. So we spent three days driving down south, and another three days driving back up north. I always enjoy travelling with David regardless of the mode of transportation. So it was fun.  An article about this event, reported by Ms. Donna Harris of The Sun Herald, was published on November 3, 2012, the day of the event: “Reunion gives South Mississippi Honor Flight veterans chance to reminisce.”

Before heading back up north, we did one more thing. On November 4, we visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. We spent six hours, just in the Pacific Theater. At this museum and, in fact, each and every day as I review articles on WWII veterans, I confront the very issue that I wish I did not have to face: the fact that humans – as seen throughout the long history of the world, Japanese being one of the more recent examples – are capable of atrocities beyond most people’s comprehension. Yet, as a daughter of the former enemy – whose attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 triggered the United States of America to enter into World War II – I am convinced that being aware of what had happened is critically important.  The daily dose of Google Alerts, which remind me of the horrors of the war, gives me an eternal sense of gratitude for WWII veterans for helping to keep freedom alive.

I thank the board of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight for giving me the very first opportunity to thank WWII veterans in person.  Being among them and everyone else at this event felt like being in an oasis in the middle of the desert of the burden of history with which I live.

That night, my eyes hurt from the tears but my heart was lifted by the warmth and compassion of those present.

 

 

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