WINK News joined a group of Southwest Florida veterans for a trip of a lifetime. The veterans spent Saturday in Washington, DC, seeing the memorials that honor their dedication to our country.
The day started dark and early as the veterans boarded a two-hour flight to Washington DC. The 85 veterans visited the memorials specifically made to honor their service.
When the veterans got off the plane, waiting for them was a hero’s welcome; American flags, applause and hundreds of handshakes.
World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Cold War veterans soaked it all in.
There were smiles, of course, tears too. The emotion of this moment is a signal to us all about what the rest of this trip would be like.
A bus took everyone to the World War II memorial. 96-year-old Robert Bashaw served in the Navy and was at Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and was one of only four World War II veterans to make this honor flight.
“My father was in the Navy. World War I. He was a survivor. His ship was blown up by the Germans, and there were only two survivors. He and one of the officers. And he always said if you have to go into service, go in the Navy,” said Bashaw.
Bashaw said he followed his dad’s advice. “When I went in, I was 17. And my father passed away.” On his father’s deathbed, he asked his son to take care of his mother and four brothers and sisters.
Bashaw sent most of his Navy pay to his mom, though he kept enough cash for cigarettes and toothpaste.
At the memorial, his grandson surprised him.
“He was very surprised. It was good,” said Kevin Bashaw, Robert’s grandson.
It was truly life-changing to watch Bashaw see the memorial made to honor his bravery for the first time. WINK News asked what it meant to him. He simply said, “It’s beautiful.”
WINK News also followed along with Joan Farrelly, who served in the Army for 23 years during the Cold War era.
The tour of the memorials started with a salute to those who fought in World War II. It then moved to Arlington National Cemetery. A reminder of the countless men and women who served our nation in uniform.
The veterans visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and witnessed the changing of the guard. That is how the 85 veterans started their day in DC.
On the bus to the Air Force memorial, WINK News met Tom Culleton, a Vietnam War Navy veteran. He told the story of how his wife signed him up for the Honor Flight shortly before she died.
“I lost her in January at 57 years,” said Culleton.
Culleton said he felt blessed to be on the trip. He called his guardian, the person escorting him on the trip around Washington, his guardian angel, and said he knew his wife was smiling down on him.
“I know she’s watching. She’s just taking it in. She is. I know she is,” said Culleton.
WINK News Reporter Emma Heaton served as a guardian for Joan Farrelly. In the ’50s, women did not serve in combat. Farrelly worked her way up to a platoon leader, where she trained other women on how to help the war effort in different ways.
This is the original photo taken on February 23rd, 1945, by an Associated Press photographer.
The photo shows six marines planting the US flag during the battle of Iwo Jima.
The veterans visited the statue that memorialized that moment.
“It just almost makes me want to cry because it looks so real. And so what they went through to get that flag risen is unbelievable,” said Farrelly.
In front of the statue, multiple Marine Corps veterans get their Vietnam War pins.
“They should have gotten recognition forever,” said Farrelly.
The Vietnam War bitterly divided the American people, and many of our troops were not welcomed home.
The last stops on an emotional day were the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Wall and Korean memorial, where Farrelly got a pin of her own.
“On your call, Sergeant First-Class Joan C. Farrelly, US Army, serving from 1956 to 1979. This pin is being placed above your heart as a token of America’s appreciation for your service,” said the volunteer who awarded her the pin.
As WINK News walked with Farrelly after receiving her pin of honor, we came across the first memorial that depicted a woman veteran and asked Farrelly what she felt about it.
“Well, I mean, you definitely know, they’re nurses and, and trying to save a soldier from dying. And, you know, they lost just as much of their own field as the men did,” said Farrelly.
There was so much love on the Honor Flight trip. At one stop, every veteran on the bus got a kiss on the cheek from two guardians at the bottom of the steps.
Farrelly couldn’t walk more than a few steps without someone walking up, shaking her hand, and saying, “Thank you for your service.”
Farrelly said it was the best day of her life.
When the veterans returned to Southwest Florida, they were met with a hero’s welcome once again. You can see photos from that welcome home celebration in the gallery below.