It was in the early 1940s when a young George Hesley was called from building B-24 bombers in Ypsilanti, to bear arms in World War II.
On Saturday, September 27, the 91-year-old WWII Army Veteran from Cedar Springs was found winging his way to Washington D.C., on one last mission, along with 79 other Veterans, courtesy of Talons Out Honor Flight. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of the men to visit the memorial to them for service to their country.
Each Veteran was accompanied by a Military member “Guardian.” George’s escort was National Guard Captain Brian Anderson, son of Rex and Kathy Bremmer, also of Cedar Springs.
Talons Out Honor Flight is Southwest Michigan’s hub for the national Honor Flight Network, a non-profit charity organization, whose purpose is to honor our World War II Veterans with an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. Each Guardian donates funds for the privilege of escorting their Veteran, helping to make it possible, for as many as possible, to make the journey.
George was greeted by two columns of military personnel standing at attention upon arrival at the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport. Check in time was a very early 5:30 a.m. and breakfast was served as the Mall City Harmonizers sang the Armed Services Military Songs, God Bless America, America the Beautiful and other patriotic songs in the background.
Throughout the event, there were retired and active duty Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel interacting with the Veterans and attending to their every need.
Following breakfast the Veterans boarded a Delta MD90. The jet then rolled through a water cannon salute on the tarmac, which was lined with Military, Talons Out Volunteers and families standing at attention to honor those on board as the plane passed by.
The Veterans also enjoyed water cannon salutes upon landing and takeoff at the Reagan International Airport and were amazed at the groups of people who were there to greet them at every turn.
The first stop on their tour was the World War II Memorial followed by the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. The bus tour also included all the various landmarks around Washington D.C. and the Veterans and Guardians alike enjoyed a full police escort, complete with sirens and flashing lights, throughout the tour.
The next stop was Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard where over 220,000 of our dead are buried. George was especially touched when thinking about those men and women who gave their all for America; some of whom he most likely trained for war. Visits were then made to the Marine Corps Memorial, the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon and the Air Force Memorial.
Upon arriving back at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, the Veterans’ buses were led to the Air Zoo by fire trucks with sirens blaring, passing through an archway made up of two ladder trucks holding a huge American Flag and a stunning display of hot air balloons that were lit up for the occasion.
They were then escorted along a pathway to the Air Zoo lined with hundreds of people of all ages, who clapped, whistled and thanked them for their service as they rolled by. The crowd of people reached out and shook the Veterans’ hands, expressing how much their sacrifices were appreciated and welcoming them home from that “One Last Mission.” There were tears of joy and smiles on all faces as they drank in the love that was shown by one and all.
Veterans remarked over and over at the numbers of people who came out to greet them and most of all with the sincerity with which they were thanked. One Veteran remarked that it would take a week to wipe the smile off his face, while George mused it had taken 91 years for him to become a celebrity!
Read George’s personal story on page 8.