Heroes’ Welcome

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Two Jewish WWII vets touched by “Honor Flight” visit to D.C. memorial.

In Washington, D.C., at the WWII Memorial: Marty Myers and Art Fishman, both 87 and lifelong friends, served  in the U.S. Navy.With Veterans Day coming up this Tuesday, it’s incumbent upon us to take time to remember all of our brave men and women in uniform. Despite not having served in the military, I’ve always been in awe of the sacrifice members of our military have made, and continue to make, in preserving our freedoms.

Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know many of our cherished WWII veterans, two of whom agreed to share a special story with me ahead of the Veterans Day holiday.

Art Fishman and Marty Myers, 87-year-old buddies and friends since seventh grade at Durfee Middle School in Detroit, have shared many good times during their 75-year friendship, but a trip they took together this summer ranks among the best.

On June 24, Art and Marty were chaperoned on a one-day, all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit our nation’s WWII Memorial courtesy of Mid-Michigan Honor Flight. The Mecosta, Mich.-based charitable organization, which flies out of Grand Rapids, joins Escanaba and Kalamazoo as hub cities offering the service, which is part of the larger, national Honor Flight Network.

Art Fishman and Marty Myers, 87-year-old buddies and friends since seventh grade at Durfee Middle School in Detroit, have shared many good times during their 75-year friendship, but a trip they took together this summer ranks among the best.

On June 24, Art and Marty were chaperoned on a one-day, all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit our nation’s WWII Memorial courtesy of Mid-Michigan Honor Flight. The Mecosta, Mich.-based charitable organization, which flies out of Grand Rapids, joins Escanaba and Kalamazoo as hub cities offering the service, which is part of the larger, national Honor Flight Network.

The backstory about how Honor Flight began is as heartwarming as the flights themselves. The program was the brainchild of Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain. Upon his retirement in 1988, Earl was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a Springfield, Ohio, clinic. When the national WWII Memorial was completed in May 2004, Morse asked his aging veteran patients if they planned on visiting the landmark. While many expressed interest, it became obvious the trip for most of the them was too financially or physically challenging. This was not acceptable to Morse.

In December 2004, Morse asked one of his WWII veteran patients if he would agree to let him fly him personally, at no charge, to the nation’s capitol to see the memorial. The tear-filled response he received from the gentleman, just one of many to come from other vets, convinced Morse he had to act.

Schoolchildren in patriotic colors greeted the veterans.In the ensuing months, he enlisted other pilots to volunteer their services and, in May 2005, after enough funds were raised, the first Honor Flight took flight. A formation of six small planes with 12 veterans took to the air that spring day. From the vision of one amazing patriotic man, the Honor Flight Network was born.

Currently, commercial airlines and charters have flown nearly 100,000 WWII veterans to see “their” memorial. Navy veterans Art Fishman and Marty Myers are proud to be included in this exclusive club whose members make up the very best of our Greatest Generation.

Amazing Journey

From the onset of our conversation about their Honor Flight adventure, it was abundantly clear that their journey rivaled any field trip they may have taken back at Durfee Middle School in 1939.

At the break of dawn on June 24, Art and Marty awoke and readied themselves for a 6:30 a.m. arrival at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. While they opted to stay at a local hotel the night before, all participating veterans were offered free accommodations at a nearby college campus. At the official “Send Off,” the vets, wearing Honor Flight T-shirts, were treated to breakfast and a warm welcome by well-wishers, including schoolchildren. Each veteran was assigned a “guardian” who paid their own way to escort them, which was especially vital to the numerous veterans who required wheelchair assistance.

With 77 WWII veterans and 91 volunteers on board, it was wheels up for Mid-Michigan Honor Flight’s inaugural mission. Nothing could’ve prepared Art and Marty for the emotional arrival they were about to experience. Disembarking at Dulles Airport in nearby Maryland, the veterans were greeted by throngs of cheering people lining the terminal. Children dressed in red, white and blue outfits held up signs that read “God Bless Veterans,” Boy and Girl Scouts saluted, flags as far as the eyes could see were being waved, people hugged and kissed their heroes.

“I had tears of awe,” Art recalled.

“It was a welcome that I never had when I returned home from the war,” he said, fighting back tears. “I never expected a welcome from so many people I had never met before.” Art remembers one veteran being so overwhelmed with emotion that he had to be supported while he cried.

 Guardians Lucy and Heather accompanied vets Art Fishman and Marty Myers.Boarding chartered buses, the veterans began a full day of sightseeing activities. Though their main destination was the WWII Memorial, time was built in for visiting Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Korean and Vietnam war memorials.

In sharing their stories, you could feel the common bond Art and Marty had for their fellow comrades no matter what era they fought in. Reflecting back on the day, Marty called it “the most fascinating experience I ever had.

“I cried,” he said.

Michigan Honors

Upon their return flight to Grand Rapids, the two were equally unprepared for Mid-Michigan Honor Flight’s “Welcome Home” reception. Like their arrival in D.C., a large group of enthusiastic adults and children awaited the returning vets and, despite the late hour, there was still more excitement to come.

Upon landing, a bagpiper led the troops through a line-up of flag-bearing volunteers to a hangar where the Amway Corporation had arranged for a B-17 bomber to be flown up from Willow Run to surprise the returning servicemen. It was the proverbal icing on the cake.

While I can’t express what it must feel like to be on an Honor Flight from a veteran’s perspective, I got the next best thing when my son Daniel and I had the privilege of flying as guardians with a group of veterans in October 2009. We volunteered through the Royal Oak hub, which has since ceased flying in order to concentrate on “bringing the memorial home” in the form of the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial.

To be located in Royal Oak’s Memorial Park, this tribute will pay homage to both Michigan WWII veterans and those who served on the homefront in our state, like Rosie the Riveter. It’s our way of preserving the unique role the state of Michigan played during the war.

I’m honored to serve as a member of the project’s board, and Art and Marty are doing their part to help raise funds to make our dream a reality.

The Atlantic side of the national WWII Memorial“Whatever ability I have left in me,” Art said, “I will do to help future generations remember WWII and what so many courageous men and women sacrificed to save the world.”

To that end, my two “war buddies” surprised me with a donation from the Michigan Jewish War Veterans. Marty even picked up the check for lunch!

As our meeting concluded, Art and Marty wanted to make it perfectly clear that they didn’t consider their service worthy of the highest praise. Havingenlisted in 1944, both gentlemen, in the true humility that describes all of the WWII veterans I’ve met, considered those who fought earlier in the war as the true heroes.

“We honor those who saw the action,” said Myers, “the ones who made the way smoother when we came in.”

I beg to disagree with Art and Marty. To me, you’re all heroes, and on Veterans Day and every day, a grateful nation thanks you.
For more information on how to send a veteran on an Honor Flight, visit www.honorflight.org. To help support the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial, go to
www.michiganww2memorial.org.

By Alan Muskovitz, Jewish News Columnist

 

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