By Chris Burns, Rotary Club of Hendersonville, North Carolina, USA
In 2005, HonorAir founder Jeff Miller asked me to help realize his dream of taking all surviving American WWII vets to their national memorial in Washington D.C. What started as a small local project has now spread nationwide, thanks in no small part to many Rotary clubs that made it their own project.
About a year ago, Jeff had another dream. This time it was to take all surviving Normandy Invasion Campaign (D-Day) veterans to their national memorial for the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of D-Day. Through the partnership of the Asheville and Hendersonville Rotary clubs, a team was pulled together to turn this idea into a reality.
For nine months, this team of Rotarians has worked tirelessly to identify every surviving D-Day vet throughout western North Carolina, in hopes of loading them on two buses and taking them to the commemoration events in Bedford, Virginia, on 6 June. Rotary clubs throughout District 7670 have worked to find eligible vets as well as donated money to the project to ensure that the veterans and their spouses travel at no charge.
So what is my take away on this Rotary experience? Recently, I spent time with my family floating and camping down a local river. One morning as I sat on the riverbank watching the sun creep over the mountain tops, my mind drifted to the beauty surrounding me and the freedom I have to enjoy public lands and come and go as I please. It reminded me of the brave sacrifice of millions of soldiers, sailors, and airmen; the terrible cost of war; and the importance of working to build peace.
This Rotary project has given me perspective in ways I could never have imagined. In preparing a video for the project, I had the privilege of interviewing Randal Murf, a navigator and bombardier on D-Day. Mr. Murf, now in his 90’s, could vividly recall the events of the day including “his bombs digging holes for those boys on the beach.” As we talked, I viewed him in the same way I viewed my grandfather, full of wisdom and experience, a man to be respected.
In post-production a few days later, we found a photo of Mr. Murf with his squadron standing in front of their plane. A shiver ran down my spine as I saw this grandfatherly figure from a few days before in the form of a teenager, only a year or two older than my own kids. A young man with an entire life of dreams in front of him. He was one of the lucky ones; the ones that made it home to realize those dreams.