Hats off

Published 7:56 pm Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hats to the five World War II veterans who were treated to a special trip last weekend.

On Saturday, T.P. Bryant, Bennie Brookins, Jack Gray, Spencer “Onion” Davis and Frances Lee began a trip to see the World War II Memorial and Arlington National Cementery, and ended with a journey of a lifetime.

Every leg of their trip was marked with honors bestowed on them—these five members of “The Greatest Generation” were welcomed back, thanked for saving the world by defeating the two strongest militaries at the time and generally just made to feel that they were indeed very special—and they are.

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As Brookins said, those countless hundreds who wished them well on their trip and greeted them with applause and hugs on their return, didn’t have to be there. They wanted to be there, and “It was real.”

Brookins, who served four years in the South Pacific as a gunner on a torpedo plane, didn’t want to talk about details of his time during the war. But Saturday, he hugged some necks and shook some hands—all with a huge smile on his face.

He and the other four said if there was one thing that they all felt from the trip, it was the reaction of the public that was the most surprising—and the most memorable.

Each of the five had very unique experiences from World War II.

Bryant was at the beginnings of the two bloodiest battles of the European theater—D-Day on Omaha Beach—and in the Pacific theater—the Battle of Okinawa in March 1945.

A hardened veteran who said he had a job to do and did it. He was one of the lucky ones, he said, because he came home. But coming into the Dothan airport terminal on Saturday, Bryant was all smiles.

“It was like a storybook.”

Gray and Davis were both in the Coast Guard—one serving in the Atlantic and the other in the Pacific. Both joined the Coast Guard because it accepted 17-year-olds, which is how old the two were at the time.

Lee was a nurse in Europe and was even held as a prisoner of war by the Germans for approximately two weeks. Her reaction to Saturday’s event was succinct: “Today, they treated us like we were somebody.”

The day won’t have been possible without the donations of numerous individuals and businesses that allow these veterans to take these Honor Flight trips for free—they don’t pay a dime.

But the trips to see the memorial and Arlington could be just that.

What made it special to the veterans was the heart-felt, genuine “Welcome Back,” “Thank you” and whatever other messages conveyed from the well-wishers who greeted them along the way.

What a message we can convey to those who serve—Thank you for your service—yet veterans shouldn’t need to take a trip to earn it.