Honor Flight Chicago

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                                                                                          Honor Flight Chicago                                              

 

                                                                                    What a Blast ! 

        During the past winter of 2013/2014, sometime after the Christmas Holidays, my daughter, Lydia Arroyo, notified me that she was looking into something called "Honor Flight Chicago". I didn't pay too much attention to what she was saying  except  for  the  fact  that  she  was  checking out something regarding a trip to Washington  DC for veterans of WWII. It turned out that the trip by air would be provided to the veterans free of charge. Well, when I heard the word "free", my interest jumped up to 100%! 

        My grandson, Bob Galvan, became interested and thought he might get involved. Bob and I have been pretty tight since  he  was  about  four  years  of age when  he was  trying to talk, now  he is in  his  mid  forties  and  talks  a  lot.  I eventually acquired an application for the trip through my daughter, who's persistance did not slack one bit thus making sure that I fill out all necessary papers. I received a request from the Honor Flight Office for copies of service connected documents and health information which I gladly supplied. 

          Bob went through all the motions of application and was soon confirmed as my "guardian" for the trip. There was  some doubt about Bob's confirmation at the beginning of our little adventure, but it turned out that our group was short of guardians so Bob inherited one more veteran for the trip. I believe the other veteran's name was also Bob which was quite a coincidence. 

         By the way, my Bob had to pay his own way!   

        Guardians were issued T shirts in red, green and yellow while all veterans were issued grey T shirts. All T shirts bore the Honor Flight Logo on the chest just below the left shoulder.  

        In all the confusion of checking in and finding bathrooms and looking for coffee at Midway Airport the other Bob disappeared, probably attaching himself to some female guardian, but he wasn't lost, that's for sure!

        Most veterans were in their late 80's, or 90's plus, so most of us were given wheelchairs as it was going to be a long grind. At age 90 you can't walk very far on your own. 

        The deadline for checking in on Wednesday April 9 had been 4:AM. Bob and I made it with about five minutes to spare, for we had been warned to be on time or perhaps lose our spot, for there was a waiting list for this and all future trips. All in all everything went along as NOT planned.

        I believe it was about 5:AM when we finally boarded our plane.

        The take-off was smooth and inconsequential. We were on our way to Washington DC.  

          Aboard the plane the female guardians passed out little brown bags to everyone while explaining with a smile, "breakfast is served"! Breakfast consisted of one egg over easy with sliced cold bacon covering it all in a cold wrinkled bun, and a small flexible bottle of "orange juice". The orange juice resembled the toothpaste that I brush my gums with in the mornings.

          I'm not complaining mind you, it's just that cold eggs and cold bacon and my digestive system do not go well together.

          I had come prepared for such an event having stuffed a few bucks into my wallet before leaving home, just in case! And Bob was loaded anyway!

          We arrived and landed at Dulles Airport in DC. Here I get confused because Washington DC is one district while Virginia is a State, and frankly I didn't know where the hell I was!

           Eventually we began to disembark. Bob took down our bags from above the seats and we slowly followed the leaders, just outside the hatch the wheelchairs were waiting for us. I dropped into one and Bob took the steering handle then up we went on the ramp to the Airport facility.

           Now we headed for the elevators about a half block or so away. On the way we were greeted by people lined on two sides as we wheeled our way through. Men, women and children reached out to shake my hand and thank me for my service over and over again. I shook many hands with great enthusiasm.

           Out the elevator doors we rolled to the huge Honor Flight Bus waiting for us in the street. Everyone not on a wheelchair was directed to the rear of the bus. Bob reserved the first two seats on the right side of the bus just behind the seat occupied by John, the guardian in charge of the coming trip.

          John, the guardian, made a short speech about the memorial we were about to visit and off we went.

          Our first stop was the Air Force Memorial. A fantastic piece of sculpture/structure showing three airplane trails depicting smoke or vapor trailing hundreds of feet skyward.

          Bob couldn't get a good shot of all three trails up close so he walked some distance across the street and took some very nice photo shots. I hope to have those photos on my website, Fred Arroyo Art. com within a few days along with this piece that I am presently writing.

          We were served lunch at this Memorial, another little bag, of course! Two types of meat were offered, each wrapped in a tortilla. There was beef and turkey slices, I chose turkey and I believe Bob chose beef. In any case, the tortilla was something else to be desired, frankly it tasted like dry cardboard! I ate the turkey and discarded the cardboard, er, the tortilla.

          I must explain here why I am so critical of certain foods. You see, I happened to be in the restaurant business back in the days, and being of a Mexican background Mexican food was my specialty, and I did most of the cooking myself. As for tortillas, I learned to make my first batch (or stack) at about age 10. Remember now, I'm 90 years old, that would be 80 years ago. But that's another story.

          Our next stop would be the WWII Memorial, the latest of the memorials and the main reason I and many more WWII Veterans were on this trip that was arranged by Honor Flight Chicago.

          Our bus came to a stop on a street within walking distance to the WWII Memorial. The usual action began as we stood up to leave the bus. Bob went out first to obtain our wheelchair from the carrying compartment underneath the bus floor. A female guardian helped me up and held on to me as I struggled out the bus door. I cracked some kind of joke pertaining to old guys and we all laughed. I dropped my body into the wheelchair and good old Bob started the wheels rolling again.

           As Bob and I approached to what I believe was the south entrance to the memorial, we were greeted by a member of Congress who turned out to be Congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois. I had heard a lot of good things about the Congressman back in Chicago. We chatted for a few minutes as you may see in one of the photos taken by Bob the photographer (my grandson of many skills).

           Bob and I continued our trip of discovery into the centerfold of the WWII Memorial. What a beautiful sight to behold! There is a round designed pool with two fountains shooting water up to about twenty or so feet, and 100 or more miniature fountains circling the inside of the pool shooting water toward the center in tiny little streams. There are two entrances that resemble old stone bell towers, one with the word "Pacific" across the top and the other with the word "Atlantic". There is a column for every State in the Union with the name of each State carved across the center, all in two semicircles surrounding the memorial.

           Not being a builder of any kind myself, my description of some things do not very well describe things as they really are. However, there is a book of photography published purposely for this particular memorial titled "Jewel of the Mall". This book is available at the Smithsonian stores, at the National Gallery of Art and National Service Stores. The photography for the "Jewel of the Mall" was done by noted photographer Stephen R. Brown.

           Soon the memorial was crawling with visitors and veterans. We, in the wheelchairs, were assembled to wait for Presentation of the Colors and for a photo shoot of the whole gang. I didn't count the wheelchairs but there must have been anywhere from twenty to thirty, veterans on foot lined up behind the wheelchairs. The Color Guard presented the Colors in honor of the present WWII Veterans. I shed a little tear at the sight and for the honors presented for our benefit.

           Bob was very busy taking pictures of everything and everybody. He would disappear at times leaving me stranded in some corner while he was going around taking pictures. He always managed to get back before I would become exasperated, or before I would fall asleep.

           After all the hoopla at the WWII Memorial Bob and I took off to visit the Korean War Memorial. This memorial consisted of a long stone wall containing sandblasted pictures of Americans who perished in the fight, however, the most dramatic part of this memorial was a field of steel sculptured soldiers wearing helmets, long rain gear and boots walking through a field before or after a battle. The figures were astonishingly life-like as depicted by the expression on every soldier's face. I actually became emotional at the sight but managed to hold back the tears.

           Next up was the Lincoln Memorial. I had visited this memorial way back in 1947, about a year after my discharge from the Navy. Nothing had changed except the people, everyone was younger than me! The memorial is located on high ground, therefor there are a few hundred stairs to climb to get to Mr. Lincoln. However, Bob managed to find elevators at ground level. Good old Bob! This memorial has always been a favorite of mine because of what the man represented. Abraham Lincoln, I salute you from the bottom of my heart! You too, Bob!

           There was one more memorial to be visited before returning to our starting point, however, this would be some distance from where we were presently located, therefor we would travel by bus. We also had some time to spare so Bob and I stopped at a refreshment stand not too far from our bus. Bob volunteered to get in line to purchase a couple of chocolate covered Dove bars. We took a table outside. I relaxed in my wheelchair and let the sunshine hit my face. Bob returned with the Dove bars, gave me one and disappeared again with camera in hand.

           I ate my delicious Dove bar and soon Bob returned. He wheeled me to the bus which was already loading. With the usual help I managed to climb the steps into the bus and into my seat. At this very moment, John the bus guardian made a friendly comment about how some people drop food on their shirts, chocolate in particular. Immediately I looked down at my chest, and sure enough, there was a huge blob of chocolate clinging precariously from the front of my T shirt. I looked down a little further and found more chocolate on my pant legs. Luckily I had a box of tissues in my bag, I used half the box to clean up the mess. I didn't get the stains out until I got home hours later. I wasn't one bit embarrassed for I know that guys my age do dumb things like that regularly.

          Next and final stop would be the National Air and Space Museum, one of the Smithsonian museums' most popular. Here is housed the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. The Enola Gay has a special place in my heart simply because it dropped the bomb on Japan on my Birthday, August 6 and possibly saved my life when the war with Japan suddenly came to an abrupt halt.

          Let me explain. My ship, the LST 746 had been a member of the invasion forces when we invaded Leyte, Philippine Islands on October 20, 1944 when Japan still held the Islands. We made four more invasions all around the Philippines which included Mindoro in December 1944, Luzon in Lingayen Gulf in January 1945, Manila Bay also in January 1945 ( which was almost completely secured by US Army and Philippine Forces ) and Mindanao in April 1945.

          Most landing ships received orders to return to Leyte Harbor and wait for further orders. We, the crew and Surgical Team No. 13, all suspected that our next invasion would be Japan proper. That never happened because of circumstances. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had just passed away, therefor, Vice President Harry Truman became President Harry Truman. Thus the order to invade Japan was set aside and the order to drop the Atomic Bomb was given by President Truman.

          I've written a book titled "Francisca and the Boys" that tells about these invasions in a little more detail. Refer to my website, www.fredarroyoart.com for the book's availability.

          Soon after the Enola Gay ( Enola spelled backwards spells, alone) dropped its message, my, and other Surgical Team members' orders arrived to prepare for home. Our overseas time had been completed on points and soon we were on our way back to the States.

           Bob and I checked out as many planes as we could, including the P-38 which was the hero of the Pacific War. The only fighter plane with a double fuselage that I know of and has ever existed. I believe Bob has pictures of both the Enola Gay and the P-38 Fighter.

           Bob went missing again and in the meantime we lost the group we were with. Time was running short we had to be at the bus at a particular time or it would leave without us. I saw Bob coming and mentioned that we had to hurry, and we did. The bus was fully loaded when we arrived. The busdriver had a long face as we entered the bus with just a few seconds to spare. John, the guardian of the bus had a smile on his face as he remarked, "You made it by a few seconds"!

           Bob and I couldn't help laughing but we did it to ourselves so as not to antagonize the people who had been waiting for us. As a kid I did that a lot in grammar school.

           On the move again. Within a few minutes of departing and heading for the next base before boarding our plane, John the guardian walked up to me and held out his hand as if to shake, I extended my own hand and John gripped it, he pressed something into my hand as we shaked hands, reminding me of how I would pay off the cops in Chicago whenever I did something stupid while driving as a young punk. I looked at the object which turned out to be something to remember this wonderful trip by. It was a round metal coin of about two inches in diameter. For now I'll call it a coin but it also looks like a metal without the pin. Anyway, the face has the Honor Flight Chicago Logo on a white background, with writing all around it in gold, reading, Bringing Chcago's Veterans to Washington DC With Honor.The back of the metal/coin has the insignias of all the US Services including the Merchant Marines, with the center showing the WWII Memorial in gold. What a beautiful piece of work and what an honor to receive it! All I could say to John was, WOW! John smiled and handed me another little package containing a set of  dog tags with the following engraved lettering, Alfred Arroyo-Honor Flight Chicago, 04-09-14. It brought back memories of my original dog tags which I lost sometime during my drunken days as a youth. Thanks again, John!

          We arrived back at Dulles Airport, wherever it happens to be. Back to the elevators and to the gathering group of veterans and other people at the waiting section before boarding. More shaking of hands and thank you's, and I couldn't get enough of it.

          On arrival to the waiting section there were guardians to greet us with sandwiches, chips and soda plus a few entertainers who were also guardians. The guys were dressed in zoot suits and the girls in short skirts and blouses ah la late 1930's and early 1940's. What a wonderful surprise! I joked with one guy in a red suit with drape pants and the suit jacket tails nearly touching the floor, I said to him that I wore that kind of stuff in South Chicago where I lived as a kid of 16 years of age, but not in such bright colors.

          Soon the girls and the guys turned on some music of a bygone era and began to jitterbug bringing back more memories of my youth. I'll pause now to shed a tear or maybe just start to bawl. Anyway, it was a lot of fun to watch and to enjoy while I sat in my wheelchair, smiling and dancing with my toes and my fingers, which I can still move

          After a long absence, Bob showed up with two large paper cups of decaffeinated coffee, one for me and one for him. I needed it, Bob never failed even if he wasn't around that much.

          Now Bob would take the reins once more to get ready for boarding.As we began to move toward the check-in desk people gathered to bid us goodbye as they did when they greeted us on our arrival. One woman standing near the entrance threw her arms open and hugged me as if I was a long lost relative. I responded with a similar hug as we both laughed out loud. We boarded our plane for our return and relaxed while waiting for take-off.

          Everything went as well on the return trip as before. We landed safely at Midway Airport in Chicago at about roughly 9:00 PM. Back to the wheelchairs once more. Bob took control of the wheelchair and up the gangway we went. For a while I thought the trip was finally over, but no way, for the best was yet to come.

         A huge crowd of screaming people was waiting throughout the building as we came through the exit. The walking veterans were already going through the crowd as we began our own little adventure from our starting point. The people were roped off to one side on our left as we started our wheelchair trip through the building. Somehow the wheelchairs were separated at a good distance from each other either by chance or purposely leaving each individual wheelchair by itself as it rolled along. 

         When we first entered the building Bob stopped past the exit for some reason that I wasn't aware of for the moment. Then my wheelchair began to move and Bob was not there to push for I could see him up ahead taking pictures, of course! I looked around and found a beautiful young lady in her Navy Blues, her Navy hat and all the rest, getting ready to do the pushing of my wheelchair. Her uniform had two small white hashmarks on her left sleeve which I presumed indicated that she was a Seaman Second Class and perhaps not too long out of boot camp. She smiled at me but never uttered a word. She continued to push my wheelchair.

          I could hear band music in the distance as we rolled along. I reached out to shake hands with anyone that offered their hand. I smiled with my toothless mouth attempting to keep my lower fangs from showing, to no avail. Delivery of my plates were not on time (at this writing I'm still toothless). After a little distance my wheelchair came to a stop. I heard a drum roll. Sailors in uniform were lined up to my right presenting the Colors and saluting. I looked around to see who else of the veterans was around, but saw no one. Then I realized that the whole thing had been set up for my benefit. Now the tears began to roll. I wiped my eyes several times but the tears kept coming. I saluted back toward the Colors and the Color Guard and let the tears roll as they might. I left my glasses on with the impression that they would hide the tears, but no way that would happen, it didn't work!

           The young girl sailor behind my wheelchair continued to push slowly, for now just about everyone wanted to shake my hand, and I so happily accommodated. The tears continued to flow. Toward the end of this wonderful wheelchair ride I encountered a group of twenty or more screaming school children, perhaps second, third and fourth graders. Everyone of the children either shook my hand or just reached over to touch me. More tears! I spoke Spanish to a few ladies whom I heard speaking the language. Their response was enormous as they shouted, "Gracias, gracias," Spanish for thank you.

           We finally reached the end of the line, then I heard a loud voice screaming, "Grandpa,"it was my granddaughter Amy's voice. I looked around and there she stood next to her husband Mike who was holding their new baby daughter Nola, my latest great grand child. In all there were a few members of my family present to greet me which included my two eldest daughters, a granddaughter, and two more great grand children.

            I looked around for the young female sailor who had pushed me around, but she had already disappeared into the crowd. Bob had been missing all during my wheelchair ride but arrived before long with camera in hand.

            I thank Gary Washburn of the Honor Flight Chicago Office and John and Mary, very important guardians on the bus and all other guardians involved in the trip.

            I thank my daughter Lydia Arroyo for making everything happen.

            I thank my grandson Bob Galvan for keeping me company through this wonderful ordeal and doing all the hard work (like taking pictures).

            I thank Honor Flight Chicago for this wonderful and beautiful ride that has come to an end and has left me a better man now than I have ever been!

             Like I said at the beginning of this little note.............WHAT A BLAST !!!

                                                                                                                                     Alfred Arroyo

                                                                                                                                     PhM 2C

                                                                                                                                      US Navy