When Honor Litter Met Honor Flight
In my last blog entry we talked about some of the puppy training. Much of their training will be formal instruction at Warrior Canine Connection Headquarters, but equally important are the weekly field trips to expose the puppies to many diverse situations; after all, they will likely experience all sorts of uncertainty when escorting their veterans, so they need to be ready for anything.
Every once in a while we get an opportunity to do something extra special, like going to the airport to greet an Honor Flight.
Honor Flight is an organization that transports World War II veterans (at no cost to them) from their homes to Washington, DC, to see the World War II memorial — their memorial. We’re fortunate here in the National Capital Region to have the privilege of welcoming these veterans and their guardians at all the regional airports. Honor Flight is an organization that I am also passionate about, and combining it with WCC … well … the thought just about sent me over the edge! The puppies gain the invaluable experience of being in an airport, riding escalators and people movers, people rushing about with suitcases, and TSA pat downs; we get the honor of meeting and greeting the men and women of the Greatest Generation – and they get the hero’s welcome that they never really received when they came home from the war.
Throw in a bunch of puppy kisses and you have a win-Win-WIN!
So, that’s what we did! Last month, 20 of WCC’s pups visited BWI Marshall Airport to welcome over 500 World War II veterans in full force. The pups were charged with getting to the airport on time …their photographer, NOT a morning person, was not quite as efficient! 🙂 Their puppy parents and all the WCC volunteers then had to proceed through the TSA screening to the arrival gates – As part of Honor Flight, non-passenger escort passes are issued to volunteer greeters which allow them to welcome the WWII veterans the moment they get off the aircraft — as a side note, this means more to these men and women than I can say in this space. I can also tell you that, even the sometimes-disagreeable TSA people enjoyed the company of the WCC dogs. I’m pretty sure that they weren’t really “patting down” the dogs…I think they just wanted to pet them!
Anyway, we finally took muster at the gates, and lined the dogs up next to fellow volunteers from all the armed forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, to greet the Greatest Generation. They all formed a great big tunnel, and as these vets got off the airplane to throngs of people applauding wildly, smiling, shaking hands, and hugging.
You could tell something incredibly special was happening!
While we waited at the gates for the flights to arrive, there were lots of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Navy midshipmen for the puppies to greet!
As the first plane full of veterans pulled to the gate, everyone lined up, excited to give the warmest and most heartfelt greeting they possibly could!
The dogs were really phenomenal … some of the Honor Litter pups were a little sleepy (reveille was EARLY!), but they had an astounding impact on everyone they met, young and old.
One particularly poignant moment came early in the morning, when Stanley met his namesake’s widow, Mrs. Gloria Giza. Stanley’s puppy parent, Roger, presented Mrs. Giza with an amazing plaque to commemorate her husband’s service. Mrs. Giza was clearly touched, and there weren’t many dry eyes around! The lovely lady standing behind Mrs Giza is Pam, Stanley and Gloria Giza’s daughter. Their grand daughter, while not shown in this picture, was also there. Three generations of the Giza family all showering their love on WCC Stanley – it was wonderful!
I would like to share a letter sent to me from a dear, sweet lady who (along with her husband) serves as a guardian on multiple flights a year from Rhode Island. She perfectly expressed just how much this day, and the Warrior Canine Connection dogs meant to the WWII vets.
“I’ve wanted to send you a note about the greeting our veterans received from the Warrior Canine Connection dogs and volunteers at BWI. For our World War II veterans, the Honor Flight trip is one that is anticipated with great excitement, but we are also well aware that these brave men and women are in their late 80s and 90s and have a variety of health issues. They are often unused to travel and for many, they seldom spend time away from their families or caregivers. We can add to that that this trip also often dredges up deep emotions, sometimes not explored in many years. In a nutshell, as excited as our heroes are to finally see their memorial in Washington, DC, they are also often quite apprehensive. When we step out on to the concourse at BWI, the veterans are welcomed by uniformed members of the U.S. Navy and our veterans are delighted and moved and often overcome by emotion. Some cry and a few are bewildered by this outpouring of gratitude. It is an extraordinarily emotional time for us all. On September 28th, after the Navy personnel greeted the veterans, our heroes were welcomed by the sweetest, friendliest, furriest group of supporters – the Warrior Canine Connection pups and dogs (along with their human trainers, of course!). I watched in amazement as the veterans broke into wide smiles and almost instantly connected with the puppies and adult dogs. The men and women in wheelchairs reached out and stroked the heads of the dogs and planted kisses on the heads of puppies being held in the arms of the WCC volunteers. I found myself grinning and looked around to see my fellow guardians oohing and ahhing over our canine greeters right along with our WWII veterans.
My veteran, 91-year-old Richard Curry, told me several times throughout the day how beautiful the dogs were and how happy he was to have seen them that morning. It clearly had made a positive and lasting impression on him.
Thank you to all the generous and thoughtful WCC volunteers who took the time to come to the airport with their dogs to greet our Honor Flight veterans. You made a difference!“
As the vets boarded the buses, the dogs stood by, as if to wish them well on their day, as another successful mission for WCC’s animals (and my buddies from the Honor Litter!) drew to a close.
The next installment will be something a little different, but a continuation of this blog — I was invited to actually ride along with one of the Honor Flight groups, the Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs Honor Flight … I can’t wait to tell you about my experiences!
What do you think? Tell us in the comments below or head over to my facebook page!
Until next time, have joy in your heart, a smile on your face, and a dog by your side!