Gold Star mom flies with veterans
For more than two years a Gold Star mom has waited for her seat as a guardian on an Honor Flight Nevada plane.
Gardnerville resident Sally Wiley assisted Korean War veteran Jack Lawyer and 25 other veterans to the memorials dedicated to their service in Washington D.C. Sept. 29-Oct. 1.
“Part of the reason why I’ve wanted to be a guardian for so long is because since my son was killed I couldn’t take care of him anymore,” the 70-year-old said. “I thought if I could be close to the military, and honor the military, I would be close to him. Maybe that’s selfish, but a friend once told me that if bad things happen in your life, you either become bitter or better, and I feel being close to veterans is making me better.”
Since the loss of her son, Army Sgt. Sean Darrell Diamond in 2009, Wiley has dedicated her life to being a voice to veterans and feels Honor Flights are another way to honor those for their service.
Honor Flight takes veterans on two-day trips to the nation’s capital as a way of saying thank you.
“All of the veterans were so sweet, and didn’t want to be a bother,” Wiley said. “Every time one of us guardians would clear their breakfast dishes or something they would say ‘Oh, you don’t have to do that.’ We always replied the same way, ‘It is our pleasure and we are here to take care of you all.’ Jack was so appreciative for being looked after and the way everyone treated them (veterans) with such respect. Every once and awhile he’d put his arm around me and say ‘you’re taking good care of me.’”
Although for the first time in 11 Honor Flights it rained, the veterans and guardians were not deterred in seeing the monuments and getting a VIP tour of Washington D.C.
One of the most memorable moments of the trip for Wiley was participating in a sacred event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Honor Flight kept so many surprises from us and the greatest one was at Arlington Cemetery. They had a wreath to lay at the tomb. Myself and the two oldest veterans walked with the Marine and turned when he turned and the men stood up from their wheelchairs and hung the wreath on the memorial. It was such a special moment. Everyone stood solemnly watching in respect.”
While rain made it difficult for many of the veterans to spend time at the memorials, Wiley said the connection between all of the veterans and their guardians kept the trip’s spirit alive.
Sitting at the American Legion Hall for a meatloaf dinner, the overall feel of the trip surfaced for Wiley.
“Eating at the big long tables allowed for the camaraderie to be so much better than any other day,” she said. “Everyone was laughing and joking and talking. I had heard about Honor Flights each being like a family, but much like any other thing you hear about, you don’t know how you’re going to react until you’re actually living it. The relationship between the guardians and the veterans was just wonderful.”
Wiley credited the ability for the veterans and guardians to connect to the hard work of the Honor Flight Staff.
Staff which included a nurse, thought of everything, even down to the ponchos that were handed out to fend off the rain Wiley said.
“I had never thought about the amount of coordination it takes to put on one of these trips, until I was on one. The love and consideration and respect the staff shows to these veterans is just heart warming. The professionalism and dedication of these people is incredible.”
Every Honor Flight has been welcomed home with a gathering of supporters at the airport, which Wiley has been apart of before.
Welcoming veterans home was old news to Wiley, but being a part of a homecoming on Oct. 1 was a whole new experience.
“As we were coming down the stairs you could hear people yelling and hollering,” she said. “It was fun to watch the veterans because they were speechless and didn’t know about the welcome they were going to get. The warmness of it all is just hard to explain.”
Wiley said as long as she can she will continue to encourage veterans to apply for Honor Flights as well as get back on a plane as a guardian.
“If you were to get a thesaurus and look for different words for thoughtfulness and grateful and dedication, to describe the trip, you wouldn’t even come close to being able to describe it. I would do this again in a heart beat. Like anything rare you want to take care of it and these veterans are no different. Whatever I can do to make the end of their life better like the Honor Flight, I am going to do it.”
For information about Honor Flight Nevada visit http://www.honorflightnevada.org.