There’s nothing more moving than seeing a Veteran being honored for service to this county. The feeling of joy and pride that must swell up within them upon the very mention of the service he or she provided for all us, I’m sure can be very moving. Recently, J.W. Southerland, an Elder living at Signature HealthCare of Greeneville, was honored with the opportunity to take a “Honor Flight” to Washington D.C. out of Knoxville. Norma Hollifield, Quality of Life Director, recounts his story below:
It all started in 2004 when the finishing touches were being put on the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. It was at this time that a Physician’s Assistant living in Ohio began to question his patients to see if they would like to go visit it. Earl Morse, in this job saw these patients month after month, knowing that their dream of seeing this new memorial would probably fade away. In most cases they lacked funds for air travel or stamina for such a long car trip. Morse was also a retired Air Force Captain and pilot and he began to offer flights for Veterans to see the memorials there. Soon he recruited other pilots and the Honor Air organization came into being.
On April 13th, 2016 a Korean War Veteran by the name of J.W. Southerland, living at SHC Greeneville was chosen to participate in the Honor Air flight from Knoxville, TN to Washington D.C. He had faithfully served his country with the U.S Air Force during the Korean War.
The day began with a special commencement ceremony and then a small prayer. It was time to make our way to where we would board the plane. As we walked there were military men and women standing on both sides of the aisle saluting all the Veterans. That moment really set the mood for the emotional journey we were embarking on that day.
It was during the flight that J.W. shared some fascinating stories of the Security Krypto Unit and his responsibilities. He shared stories and made remarks the entire day. As we toured the Korean War Veterans Memorial he shared with me that the coats weren’t as warm as portrayed on the statues here! We visited all of the war memorials, Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We also were moved by the changing of the guard. J.W. had the honor to meet Veterans from all ranks and services.
On the return flight home, the Honor Air crew re-enacted their version of “mail call” for the Veterans on board. This time quickly became emotional as each Veteran was given mail from family members, friends and even strangers! J.W. read his letter from Tyler, a 6th grade student at Karnes Elementary School who took time to write to thank J.W. for his service and sacrifice. Tyler invited J.W. to be his pen pal, which brought tears to his eyes. A quick tap on my shoulder was the Veteran behind me who wanted to share his mail with me. He was a Navy Veteran who was holding a picture of himself in Guam in 1945. With tears in his eyes, he said he was stationed there and his daughter had sent it to him as a reminder. I felt both blessed and emotional to be given such a wonderful opportunity to share this experience with them.
When we landed in Knoxville, there were so many to welcome us! The sounds of drums roared in the air while men, women and children lined the walkways! There were many from different branches of the service there to welcome our heroes home! They shook each Veteran’s hand as they came by. J.W. couldn’t believe all of this was for them! There were tears and smiles everywhere as we approached the end of the walkway. There were familiar faces waiting for us too! There stood J.W.’s family and friends along with Cammie to welcome us back.
It was truly an honor to have been a part of this experience with JW. I will be forever thankful to Signature Healthcare for their encouragement to the Quality of Life directors to fulfill an elders dream. A special thank you to Honor Air of Knoxville for have given J.W. and I the opportunity to participate in their 20th Anniversary flight to Washington, DC.
Norma Hollifield, ,QOL Director at SHC Greeneville
I imagine this was a beautiful thing to behold. It must have been so meaningful to J.W. to take this trip. It’s opportunities like this that give Elders a way to showcase their rich history and wisdom. I’m sure the flight was full of beautiful stories of days gone by that only those who were there would ever understand. These are the moments that make life special, the little nuggets we hold on to forever that shape who we will become tomorrow! Congratulations J.W. on making the Honor Air Flight!