As I walked through the front door I felt a rise in my blood pressure. My feet picked up the pace. Too many people. Tempers flaring. A true test of patience.
A familiar scene at the airport.
Everybody has to be somewhere ... now. Security is never fast enough. Ticket agents need to pick up the pace. That guy in front of me is walking way too slow.
Time. Never enough. A race to the finish.
Finally, I’m at the gate. A quick glance. Hardly a seat to be found. Checking monitors for flight departures. Oh - please be on time. We're all playing the same maddening game in the airport.
The game of minutes ...
Suddenly - a simple announcement that made everyone stop. An announcement that quieted the crowd and interrupted the hurried pace.
An event that made time stand still.
An honorary flight from Washington D.C. would be landing. “We are sorry for the delay that this will cause as most of the passengers need wheelchair assistance off the plane.” It was a flight full of World War II veterans who had been honored in the nation’s capital.
A hush fell over the entire area.
Schedules were forgotten. People quietly left their seats and formed two parallel lines extending from the airport gate well into the hallway. Hearts recognizing something more important than our own agenda. We silently waited.
The first wheelchair emerged. A standing ovation and a cheer.
One by one veterans in wheelchairs were pushed through the honorary tunnel. Gray hair. Wrinkled faces. Weakened bodies, but heads held high. Every one of them proudly wore a cap that said “WWII Veteran” on the front.
Some of the veterans gave high fives to those who reached out.
Others wept. Touched by the surprise tribute.
I searched their faces. Knowing there were so many stories to be told. Looking for emotion. Wondering if they saw mine.
One of the last off the plane was Charlie. A veteran who served in Germany under General Patton. He and his unit broke through the Siegfried Line.
I was able to talk to Charlie a bit. Put my arms around him and thanked him for his service.
“It was a cold winter,” he said. “So cold that you wouldn’t believe it unless you were there.” Said he’s never been that cold since.
A sacrifice felt and never forgotten by Charlie.
Something we shouldn't forget either.
My Papa served in World War II. There were nightmares. And he never would talk much about what he saw.
My dad still weeps when he recalls boyhood memories of the war. He remembers his bishop getting up in church during that time period and announcing from the pulpit the names of boys who were leaving for war.
Some of those boys never came back.
Dad remembers walking home from school and seeing stars in the windows of homes where boys were serving in the war. Then there was the gold star. “Your stomach dropped when you saw one of those,” he remembers.
Men and women giving everything under extremely unforgiving conditions. Like cold. The kind that Charlie knows.
We recognize it with parades and fireworks and barbeques. We gather with friends and family and make decisions about whether to grill hot dogs or hamburgers. Or both.
And we can. Because we are free.
Whatever I find myself doing on Veteran's Day – I plan to take a moment. A moment to remember now wrinkled faces that fought for me. For you.
To remember when time stood still.
To remember Charlie.