A Hero's Welcome


BY: Nate Gradisher

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss; News and Community
Honor Flight Stirs Memories and Emotions for World War II Veteran

Honor Flight Cleveland is part of a network of nonprofit organizations with the shared mission of paying tribute to U.S. veterans by providing them safe, memorable, and all-expense-paid trips to Washington, D.C. The trips include visits to the national memorials that honor their service. In August 2014, Charles Platia took part in an Honor Flight Cleveland trip with nearly 50 veterans and their escorts. Videographer Don Pavlish and I both had the privilege of accompanying the veterans to document the day's events.

The experience was truly moving, and at times overwhelming. From the spontaneous reception the veterans received at their 4:30 a.m. departure from Cleveland Hopkins Airport to the hero's welcome that greeted them upon their arrival at Baltimore-Washington International Airport - complete with water cannons on the runway and standing ovations – it was a day devoted to honoring their service.

The first stop was the World War II Memorial. The majority of the participants, including Mr. Platia, were World War II veterans. Tears flowed freely as the men remembered their experiences and friends lost to war. They were greeted by passersby with frequent handshakes, hugs and expressions of gratitude for their sacrifices.

After a visit to the Air Force Memorial and a break for lunch, the group moved to the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. These memorials were of great significance. Many veterans and their escorts had served, or had loved ones who had served, during the Vietnam Conflict and Korean War. For those in attendance, it was sacred ground.

There were many Marines on board, so the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) was also a special part of the trip. One of the most moving portions of the trip was the time at Arlington National Cemetery, including the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb was given to three of the members of our group.

The long and emotional day ended close to midnight back home in Cleveland. To the surprise of everyone, the veterans were given one final hero's welcome. They were greeted by about 50 cheering people waving flags and carrying banners as they entered the concourse.

The experience will be preserved for the future in the form of a video, which is currently in production. 

Nate Gradisher, Provider Relations Manager, chairs Hospice of the Western Reserve's Peaceful & Proud Committee and Veterans Advisory Council. Last summer, he worked with a bereavement coordinator at the agency's Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center to help coordinate an Honor Flight for World War II veteran Charles Platia. Hospice of the Western Reserve had provided hospice care for Charles' wife, and is providing bereavement support for his grief journey.

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