By: Carey Stevanus
The Estes Park Good Samaritan bus started making its way around their campus at 5:00 a.m. on Friday, September 11th. Veterans were beginning their journey to Washington DC to see their World War II Memorial. The first stop along the way was at the Embassy Suites in Loveland. There, the Estes Park 11 met with the 117 members of the Honor Flight and the 52 guardians who would escort them on their trip. It was hard to believe that at 6:30 a.m. there could be so much excitement going on. The Veterans walked into the lobby of the convention center to be greeted by a mass of volunteers waiting to help them get their bags checked in and find them a bite to eat. The convention center was filled with hundreds of well wishers sending their loved ones on their journey.
Four CSU buses awaited the veterans as they walked out the door to cheering crowds waving American flags. The procession was led by the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders on 50 motorcycles and several police cars. Along I-25 on the way to Denver police officers, firefighters and paramedics would salute and wave as the busses went passed.
The Signature Center at DIA was the next stop, where the Veterans were again treated with an outpouring of gratitude for their years of service. Many active duty soldiers were on hand to pay their respects and to visit with the Veterans. At this point the crowd was introduced to the 100 year old WWII Veteran who was attending the trip to DC. Thunderous applause filled the building.
The side of the building opened up and we had our first view of the chartered US Airway airplane we would be boarding. Once on the plane we were told that the DIA Fire Department was going to honor the Veterans with a water arch. A fire truck was parked on either side of the aircraft and as the plane passed by they aimed their hoses and sprayed water over the plane. We were told it is the highest honor you can receive.
The flight was wonderful as the Veterans got to know one another and the guardians flying with them. The flight ended at Baltimore Washington International Airport where again, crowds of people gathered to clap, salute and say “thank you” to these amazing men and women. It was a short bus ride to the hotel where the Veterans had a large banquet in their honor. Some went for drinks after dinner, but most went straight to bed and prepared for the next day.
Breakfast was served at 6:30 a.m. and all of the Veterans were eager to begin the day. After loading onto the bus, the Veterans were shown a DVD about the making of the WWII Memorial which took over 60 years to be built. Excitement quickly switched to the views outside the bus as we caught our first glimpse of the Washington Monument and then the Capital building. The first stop was at the WWII Memorial. All 50 states are represented by large granite pillars with the state’s name carved out. The Veterans waited in line to have their photos taken under the Colorado sign or the sign for their hometown.
Senator Bob Dole was a key figure when the memorial was in its initial design stages. While having lunch the Veterans were told that Senator Dole was at the Memorial if they wanted to meet him. Senator Dole and his wife Elizabeth are at the site almost every Saturday afternoon. Several of the Estes Park residents made their way to the front of the line so they could have their photo taken with him.
The Veterans were then taken to the Air Force Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, Vietnam and Korean Memorials, and the Lincoln Memorial. It’s hard to believe this can all be done in one day, but it’s true. Then it was back to BWI for the flight home and the drive up the hill. The Estes Park 11 made it home around 11:30 p.m, Saturday, September 12th. It was a whirlwind of a trip for sure.
Many tears and smiles were shared along the way. It was the trip of a lifetime for many. The Veterans would like to thank the many people who donated money to make their trip possible. Overall, the generous people of the Estes Valley have given a total of $10,000 in donations. There are more Estes Park residents waiting to go on the trip in April 2010, so more donations are needed to make that trip possible. Donations can be made through www.honorflightnortherncolorado.org or by calling the Good Samaritan Society-Estes Park Village at 970-586-8695.