By JORDAN SCHMEIDLER

Special to The Hays Daily News

When many World War II servicemen and women came home after serving their country at war, there wasn't a crowd of people gathered around to cheer them on or welcome them home off the plane. But perhaps one could say, if we were given another chance, we would change that. And that is, as promised, what we did when local veterans headed to Washington on the Honor Flight.

I was given the opportunity to attend the WWII Honor Flight with many veterans of the war, including my grandfather, Harold Schmeidler, as well as fellow guardians. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to share with them the memorial that was built in their name as well as all their other brothers and sisters in arms. Although the memorial was long past due, these veterans were welcomed onto the flight to take them to our nation's capitol to let them see what was built in their name.

The energy was beyond explanation, as I witnessed some veterans barely able to walk into the airport "run" up the airplane ramp with nothing but smiles. The stories told all the way to Washington were nothing short of inspiring, heart-touching and heroic. But perhaps nothing is more touching to me than the actual sight of us all arriving at the memorial.

I watched with awe as these veterans looked into the eyes of one another and realized this was theirs. Walking around was something of historic meaning to me, as I appreciated this memorial so much more as it was now a story to me rather than just marble. It was something much greater, as it was these veterans' blood, sweat and tears that created it.

From the Lincoln and Washington monuments, to the Vietnam and Korean memorials, to Arlington Cemetery, where an honorary veteran from each branch of the military was allowed to help place a wreath by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, these veterans were able to see places firsthand where it used to be only a vision and aspiration to visit someday.

Some of us also went to Quantico and visited a museum while others went to the Smithsonian. For me, this is perhaps one of my favorite parts of the trip, as Quantico was filled with young Marines in training and those stationed there. It was such a sight to watch these veterans interact and tell stories to the younger generation.

I recall a young Marine coming up to a veteran and thanking him for his service. But I clearly remember the veteran turning to the young soldier and saying, "A thank you to me is not needed, but to you, I say thank you for doing what you're doing and have become, and I salute you for belonging to the finest military in the world."

Landing back home in Kansas, we were greeted with the most motorcycles, American flags and proudest Americans I have seen. Veterans were welcomed home with cheers, hugs, posters of thankfulness and love and a line of police vehicles who gave an honorary escort all the way back to town. People pulled off the side of the road, stood on the curbs with flags waving high and hats removed as they showed respect to a group of people who gave so much to their country.

The trip was quick but forever rewarding. I heard those who attended talk about it for weeks and months afterward. I don't just have photographs to remember it, but also stories and memories of getting the chance to share history with those who made history.  

So to you, the veterans I was able to share this memorable flight with, those veterans who departed from this world already, and all other men and women that bear an American flag on their shoulder in the name of service to this country, thank you.

Thank you for your bravery, your sacrifices and the freedom you have and still are giving this country, which I'm glad to call home. You all are my heroes. God bless the U.S.A.

Jordan Schmeidler lives in Hays and is a student at Fort Hays State University majoring in gerontology.