Honor is a hard term to describe. It doesn’t have a color or weight or shape. If someone were to ask me what honor looked like, I’d probably struggle with what to say.
But something happened on May 23, 2012 at 9:31 a.m. at Gate 38 of Reagan National Airport that might change that. A flash mob of sorts broke out. But not like you’ve seen on YouTube with highly choreographed dance numbers or people singing a song in unison. In fact, virtually all of the participants of this “flash mob” didn’t know they would be participating until moments before it happened.
Let me explain. Shortly before 9:30 over the loud speakers, a US Airways gate attendant announced that an Honor Flight of World War II veterans would be arriving momentarily and encouraged anyone passing by to help greet them. Five or six people looked like they were officially part of the welcoming committee, and the rest of the people in the secure section of the airport were regular old travelers going somewhere. Then I had a terrible thought. What if these veterans came off the plane and just those five or six individuals were there to greet them. I walked a gate over to help see the veterans out.
But – then it happened and frankly, I wasn’t expecting it. All throughout the terminal, people left their gates and gathered around gate 38. A few active military personnel in plain clothes approached the gate attendant and politely asked if they could join in the salute within the jet way as the heroes first stepped off the plane. Every human being in the terminal stood at attention and faced the door.
Someone held up an old newspaper from 1945 that had a banner headline that said, “Nazis Quit!” And when I saw that newspaper, I realized that World War II wasn’t just a chapter in a history book. It was men and women who saw an evil like the world has never seen before and traveled across the world to meet that evil. And they defeated it.
I wonder if in 1945, any of those brave soldiers could ever imagine that 67 years later, we’d still be basking in the freedom that they preserved. And some of those heroes were about to walk through Gate 38.
The first soldier walked through the door. Old, frail and needing help walking. And every person I could see in the entire airport stood and applauded. No – maybe cheered is more like it.
But here’s the thing – the applause didn’t stop. For a full 20 minutes, as veteran by veteran stepped out of the jet way, the US Airways wing of Reagan National Airport thundered in appreciation. Travelers stepped out for the opportunity to shake their hand while others held back tears.
This is the America we picture in our heads. Heroes getting a hero’s welcome and those who enjoy the freedom adequately conveying their gratitude.
Now, I know what honor looks like.