... "they warmly shook my hand and looked into my eyes ..."
Editor's note: Bob Campbell's memories of World War
II began with the last (November, 2011) issue of the Melrose Mirror. You can visit
that story by using the link at the bottom of this story.
We waved good-bye to the Vietnam veterans who, on their motorcycles, led our
buses from Williamsburg to the main highway to Washington, D.C. It certainly had
been an emotional time so far and the day was just beginning. Carl, my Guardian,
and I settled into our seats for the three-hour trip to the Nation's Capitol. As I
leaned back looking out the window I was attracted by the sky. Weather predictions
for the big day had been great ... but I noticed it was getting more cloudy.
Fortunately those grey clouds behaved themselves throughout the day and we got no
rain! Thank you God.
While riding we were all given a breakfast, compliments of a local restaurant
and two hours later we stopped at a rest-stop. As my fellow veterans and I got
off the bus we were surprised to see lots of people waving and cheering. I
couldn't reach the rest-stop building without passing through a long line of
well-wishers. And real well-wishers they were as they warmly shook my hand and
looked into my eyes saying: “Thank you very much for your service.” It was
truly a heart-warming experience. But now off to Washington, D.C.
At 10:45 a.m. my trip notes show we reached Arlington Cemetery. I was disappointed
we didn't stop but the road we took allowed us to pass by thousands of white
gravestones ... the graves of our war veterans. It's a sight you have to see for
yourself to truly appreciate the feelings that flood your head as you absorb what it
is you're looking at. Did you know that more than 4 million people visit Arlington
National Cemetery every year, attending graveside services and special ceremonies to
pay tribute to veterans and historical figures? I believe we all felt almost over-
whelmed by what we were seeing but this was only the beginning. We had now arrived
at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which is guarded 24 hours a day. Each hour (half-
hour in the summer) there is a Changing of the Guard ceremony which includes a
special march and salute. To view this event was to me “earth-shaking.” To stand
close to and witness the precision, the uniforms, the erectness and physics of the
soldiers and their walking perfection was almost unbelieveable! Again there wasn't a
dry eye in the audience.
As if viewing the Changing of the Guard wasn't enough of an emotional stimulant
I now found myself facing the Marine Corps' Iwo Jima Memorial. The life-like
sculpture depicting one of the most memorable images of World War II bravery ... the
moment when the Marine Corps Fifth Division raised the American Flag atop Mount
Suribachi on the small Japanese island of Iwo Jima ... took my breath away. For a
moment I felt as though I were up there with them pushing and struggling to post
our nation's flag into the ground. I will never forget the reality and emotion
I was feeling. Unforgettable.
Ah, lunch where I could retrench and get my emotions under control. Everyone was
talking about the next visit on the itinerary ... the World War II Memorial. To say
this Memorial is awesome doesn't even begin to describe it. The vastness, yet its
simplicity of design, is beautiful. I especially noticed the 56 pillars engraved
with the names of the 48 States and the various Territories that contributed
soldiers to the U.S. War effort. I particularly wanted to get up close to the
pillars representing my present home state of Virginia and my birth home state of
Massachusetts. I threw both a kiss! The World War II Memorial is truly something to
be seen and the only thing you can say is “Wow!”
By now it was close to 4:30 p.m. and our bus was pulling into another impressive
modern structure with a tilted 210 foot mast. Ah, yes! We had arrived at the
National Museum of the Marine Corps. I had heard from a friend about this Museum and
how fantastic it was but once again seeing is believing. We were all, once again,
taken aback by the assemblage of military at the entrance similar to the
military groups we had enjoyed when we left Williamsburg this early morning. As we
entered the building you see before you a depiction of the Marines experiences
during World War II, the Korean Ward and Vietnam. What can you say except: “How will
I ever be able to recount to my family and friends what I've seen and experienced
today? It's almost too much to absorb at one time but I'm loving every moment.” Of
course, having been with U.S. Navy Air during the War, of special note to me was
the air-hanging of one of my favorite WWII Navy planes ... the F-4U Corsair
One outstanding feature of our visit to the National Museum was the group leader
who seemed to be able to answer any questions thrown at him. He was good. Now it was
time for dinner in the Museum's restaurant. Excellent meal.
We were all “loaded” onto the buses for our return trip to Williamsburg. I know
we were all tired but in a good way from all that we had seen and experienced today
and I'm sure I wasn't the only one ready for a little nap as we traveled down I-95.
Ah ... but wait! There was some movement and talking.
What's going on? All of a sudden I heard the announcement of “MAIL CALL!!!” Huh!
What was that all about? My question was soon answered when one of the trip leaders
came down the aisle with a stack of large manila envelopes. It seems everyone was
getting one. What a surprise!! What could be in them? The “Mail Call” distributor
soon handed an envelope to my Guardian who turned and handed it to me. The envelope
was addressed to me c/o Honor Flight. What could be in this envelope? I soon
discovered nine envelopes within from five grandchildren, my wife's son and
daughter-in-law, my daughter and my Northern Irish cousin who lives in Canada. The
only thing I can say is that the collection of letters was a great thing to do ...
thanks to my wife and the trip staff. I was beyond impressed.
And, so the big Honor Flight Washington, D. C. trip went. It was a great day that I
will never forget; I thank all of those who put it all together; those who donated
their time. Here's to my Comrades who gave their lives. You will never be forgotten
as the Memorials in our Nation's Capitol can testify to.
P.S. As for the overall picture, many thanks should be given to the entire
Honor Flight of Historic Virginia organization, and, especially to the Guardians who
took care of all of us.
For a link to Bob Campbell's first chapter, click here.
December 2, 2011