Veterans…….my salute to all of you.

With utmost respect and gratitude for all who have protected the United States and for their families whose lives were turned upside down for the duration of their service, this is my humble compilation of stories regarding the two veterans dearest to my heart.

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” – George Washington, first annual address to Congress, 1790
ImageThis is the story of my two favorite veterans.My father, a pilot with the Army Air Corps (before there was an Air Force) served in the European Theatre during WWII. He is willing to give us glimpses into his memories of the war. Some of them sweet, like how his unit adopted a shell-shocked dog that could only turn left. Some of them horrendous, like the photos he took at the concentration camp right after it was liberated, of the flatbed trucks piled high with bodies that resembled cords of firewood more than flesh and bones. Some of them brimming with pride, like his favorite 12 star photos. These are photos he took on the airstrip one day when Patton, Ike and Bradley were having an impromptu meeting. He shares letters that he wrote home to my grandparents; there are marks through words and phrases that might have given too much information. He tells stories of how different his last two years at Notre Dame were compared to his first two years, which were pre-war.

My mother was a nurse who had returned to the Aledo hospital to practice as a surgical nurse after graduating from Moline Public Hospital School of Nursing. She signed up for the Naval Reserves when a recruiter came to the hospital. She was promptly whisked away to be “IN THE NAVY”. This was during the Korean Conflict—don’t try to tell her it wasn’t a WAR!! She was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Hospital where she cared for young sailors; mostly burn victims and claims the stench of the scorched flesh remains in her nostrils still.
She recalls writing letters to mothers, wives and girlfriends of these boys who were unable to hold a pen, but were brave enough to dictate lies to the women in their lives- to prevent worrying- she would then hold these same boys as they sobbed with pain. During that time, riding the train was quite an elegant event–white linen cloths in the dining cars and porters with gloves. If she was in uniform, civilians would buy her drinks or meals, once she was invited to join the Governor of Illinois in his private car, when he learned there was a Navy nurse on board.Another time, she was returning to Chicago via train and met some folks who were going to a dive-jive joint to hear a “hot quartet” which turned out to be “THE INK SPOTS”. She was having such a good time, time was forgotten-she missed the last train to the Naval base and had to take a taxi to avoid being AWOL!!The romance began at a formal tea dance on the Naval base. My father was not supposed to be there, but was staying in Waukegan with friends, who had been invited to attend. He crashed the party and met a nurse in a pale blue dimity dress that had been purchased for $59 at Isabelle Ramey’s. Even the non-coms that mom used to sneak out to party with couldn’t keep her mind off of the dashing WWII Air Corps pilot. Some strings were pulled in D.C., mom was issued an early discharge so the two could be married…………..and so it goes 60+ years later……….my two favorite veterans……….my heroes……………my mom & my dad.

Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.
— General George S. Patton, U.S. Army

The honor is all mine- to be the daughter of one of these men.

It is 12:08 A.M. Thursday April 16, 2009. I have just arrived home from dropping my parents off at their home. We had been at the airport. My father went on the Honor Flight/Quad Cities today, he traveled to Washington DC as a guest of the Honor Flight organization. To welcome the flight home, the Patriot Guard, the Marine Moms and I don’t know what other organizations were at the airport forming two long lines of flags. The entire waiting area was packed with people who were there to welcome home the veterans from World War II. A 14 month old baby in a fleecy sleeper giggling as she tried to gum the wooden dowel to which her miniature flag was stapled. A young mother corralling her 4 year old son, 6 & 8 year old daughters- all dressed in red, white and blue. A blue-eyed blond 16 year old lounging on the floor of the gift shop propped up against the magazine rack engrossed in a fishing magazine. A 22 year old college student with sore muscles in her arm, hand & fingers after writing a 3 hour final. A 55 year old woman carrying a fluff ball of a Pomeranian named Princess Puff.  Proud wives of “Guardians” with their cameras around their necks. News reporters with their little pads of paper in such contrast to the TV news people in their spike heels and suits being trailed by long black cords and lit up by white bright spot lights.The numerous volunteers wending their way through the masses handing out free parking passes, flags and bottles of water. Airport personnel dragging carts of even more chairs, looking for places to squeeze in a few more. Many 80- 90 year old women looking fatigued at 10:45 P.M., most had other family members with them, but there were several that captured my attention: standing alone holding the little “old glory” and a handbag, waiting patiently, watching down the long flag lined corridor for a sign of their returning soldier…….looking into the faces of these lone women, I could imagine them standing at an airport or train station years ago, waiting for these same servicemen to come home. I wondered if they had a sense of deja vu or was the romantic in me taking over? I was totally flabbergasted at the size of the crowd.  All of these people, everyone with their own story to tell. I met a woman waiting for her husband who had been assigned to Pearl Harbor to replace the deceased Intel & Com after the attack. Another whose husband had been at Iwo Jima. A niece was waiting for her dying uncle who made the trip to D.C. today, but had years ago landed on Normandy Beach. A pilot who had a crowd of people bearing flags bigger than most and wearing badges with photos of him “now” and “then”  that said things like: “you are my hero”, “thank you Honor Flight QC”, “God Bless the USA”, “Always Remember”. Behind all of the noise of the conversations I could hear strains of patriotic songs and had to waddle dance to “for a duck may be somebody’s mother” and march around to “mine eyes have seen the glory” Finally at 11 o’clock there was much applause, we peered down the people lined aisle and saw the flashing light of an airport cart bringing out the first of the vets, cameras flashed, hands were shook, tears were wiped, hugs were given, but what I found to be the most pronounced and notable happening was what I could hear the crowd saying to these men; strangers with paunch bellies, gray hair, wizened, craggy faces with bright eyes. Some were staggering a bit after such a long day, some were riding in the carts or wheelchairs- all had their shoulders back and their heads held high as they shook hands with the throng and the throng said continually….thank you, thank you very much, you are so appreciated, oh how I thank you, God Bless you, and every single variation of thanks…… these total strangers………..these old men (and two women)……these brave, courageous Americans……the Greatest Generation……………….let us never forget our gratitude to these men and women who we are losing at a rate of 800 a day. It is because of them that we live the lives we live….let us always remember.

There were so many on this Honor Flight and a few will be featured or mentioned by some form of media, but how wonderful it would be if we could hear the story of each and every one of them. While awaiting their arrival I was caught up in the stories of the crowd, but it is the stories of these heroes that I long to hear. I wish these men wore the special yellow shirts that identify them as Honor Flight participants every day. I am sure that I rush past these veterans everyday- in the market or the drug store, these men who deserve my thanks, these men who pressed their frail hands into mine, these men who kissed my cheek and thanked ME for coming out to see them, these men who truly are the Greatest Generation.

If you know one of these men, please, get their story. Write it down. Video tape the telling of it, listen and remember it. However you do it, please, get their story.

Other stories that are out there to be told are those of the “Guardians”. Who are these people and what makes them pay $600 and give their time to help? These are people with stories of their own lives. Lives that they owe to these men, these veterans of World War II.

I, the daughter of James Padesky, Honor Flight/QC participant and Army Air Corps Vet have a message to all of the Guardians, to the Honor Flight Quad Cities, to the community who supported this financially and to everyone who had any part in making this day great. Thank you. Anne VandeMoortel

Please fill in women anywhere that I have just written men. I have no intention of dishonoring the women who served, my mother would slap me if I did!  I wrote the above after the 2nd Honor Flight out of the Quad Cities. Below is a link to photos of my mother’s Honor Flight.