Those are the words of Johnson City resident Lonnie Laws, a World War II veteran of the United States Navy. In 2012, Mr. Laws received the news that he was going to visit the World War II War Memorial in Washington D.C., courtesy of Honor Flight Northeast Tennessee.
Honor Flight was started in 2005 by Earl Morse of Springfield, Ohio. It is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is "to provide a means to get our war veterans to Washington D.C. to their memorials as quickly as possible. Time is not on their side." There are 116 sites in 40 states and since Honor Flight began, approximately 81,348 veterans and 39,184 guardians - a total of 120,532 - have been transported to Washington D.C.
Honor Flight Northeast Tennessee opened its doors in February 2012. Edie Lowry, president and CEO of Honor Flight Northeast Tennessee, remembers the early days of the organization.
"We got it off the ground in April and took our inaugural trip, Oct. 12-14, 2012. Our first Honor Flight trip was very successful. We had 20 World War II veterans and four Korean veterans, with 25 workers and one active Marine."
"We went by Greeneville Coach Line and it was a three-day trip. We visited the D-Day Memorial, and traveling to Washington D.C., we stayed in Springfield, Va., where the American Legion and VFW took very good care of us. We left there knowing we had made great friends. Saturday, we started with the World War II Memorial, visited all the memorials, and ended at the Changing of the Guard where Lonnie Laws, a World War II veteran, and I laid the wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, accompanied by Ron Picard, Marine, and Brittany Sexton, Army."
Mr. Laws had traveled through Washington D.C., but he had never visited any of the memorials or sites in the area.
"When I saw the World War II War Memorial, it made cold chills run over me at first... After that, I enjoyed seeing the memorial and found it interesting. The Vietnam Memorial got to me also," said Laws. "It was an honor to lay the wreath on the Tomb that honors the soldiers killed serving our country."
Laws’ daughter, Dianne Everhart, accompanied her father on the trip, and was also deeply moved by the ceremony.
"This experience was such an honor to our veterans and to me as well. Watching my dad lay the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was unbelievable. I cannot even explain the emotions you feel, just watching the changing of the guards. But seeing your father marching out with the guards to place the wreath is the experience of a lifetime."
The group returned Sunday, Oct. 14, and, two weeks later, got together again.
"We had a special early Thanksgiving dinner for our veterans, the guardians, and their families to welcome them home. They shared stories, relaxed, and enjoyed a great dinner and music," said Lowry. "Along with all the guardians and volunteers, I was so proud to be part of the most important event of these men and women’s journey in life."
Honor Flight Northeast Tennessee’s second trip is planned for April 12-14, 2013. Anyone who would like to make a donation is strongly encouraged to contact Edie Lowry.
"Our program would cease to function were it not for the many generous donations. This is a wonderful way to thank veterans for their sacrifice and duty to our country." Anyone who would like to sign up as a guardian or volunteer, or any veteran who would like to go, contact Edie Lowry at Honor Flight Northeast Tennessee, 1005 Opekiska Ext., Erwin, TN 37650 or call her at 423-330-6189 or 816-351-0811.