I flew the last Honor Flight.
We left Huntsville at first light, a plane full of World War II veterans on their last mission. Their mission? To see a memorial dedicated to them. A plane full of old men and women who, in their youth, saved the free world sixty-five years ago. This group of old warriors were flying into Washington on the morning of September 11. I thought to myself how much the world had changed since they fought the battles on Normandy, Iwo Jima, and Pearl Harbor.
In 1942 there were front lines, Nazi's and kamakazis. Today, the battles are in Kabul, Fallujah, New York...and Washington, D.C. Today the front lines are anywhere, the enemy doesn't wear swatikas, and the IED is the weapon of choice. There is no clear enemy, the enemy is mercurial. Then, there was a clear end to the war...there were surrenders and peace treaties signed. Now, it seems, the war will never end even after we declare the war over.
I wonder if today's veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will have monuments to battles in Baghdad or Fallujah? In forty years,will old men and women, veterans of the desert wars, fly into Washington to see the monument dedicated to them? Will they look back at the wars and see them as the beginning or the end of a new world order? Will a Marine veteran from Fallujah salute and cry as he steps off the plane into Reagan National Airport to patriotic songs like the WWII Marine from the Phillipines?
A friend asked me if it was strange flying into Washington on Sept. 11. It really wasn't. There were very few reminders of the terrorist attacks that I saw. No one really talked about it, either. My friend seemed disappointed there were not memorials to the attacks of Sept. 11. Had we forgotten what had happened, forgotten those who died? Had we forgotten why we were still fighting two wars? How could everyone just go about their business in Washington...tourists snapping photos, a triathlon, traffic jams? The more I thought about it, the more I realized snapping photos, running triathlons and traveling with friends is what we should be doing. The day we stop living our lives and start living in fear we have lost the war.
"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That is what the soldiers on the plane fought for so long ago in World War II. It is the same thing, ultimately, the today's soldiers are fighting for in the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq. While it's important to remember and honor those who fought and died for us than and now, it's more important to live the American Dream. We won't win the battle when our tanks roll through a nation's capitol, we win we live in freedom and pursue happiness. The soldier marching in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was protecting far more than a fallen soldier's tomb, that soldier is protecting the honor of those who died protecting our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
So, if you want to honor those soldiers who fought in The War to End All Wars or the soldiers fighting in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, live you life - run a triathlon, visit the memorials in Washington, pursue happiness. But next time you see a soldier in an airport on vacation or a veteran at a parade, thank them for their service.