Waking up at 5 a.m. is not the normal thing 12-year-olds do on weekends. But last year on May 17, I did, not because I couldn’t sleep or because I was sick; it was for my papa (my grandpa), Thomas J. McGee, former WWII prisoner of war and Purple Heart recipient. I was in the car on the way to L. I. MacArthur Airport with my mom, papa and sister to send him off to Washington D.C. It was an amazing experience that happened through the Honor Flight organization. This nonprofit organization sends veterans to D.C. for the day to see their memorials. I heard it was amazing!

When we walked into the airport, we were greeted by more than 100 people. There were Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and people of all ages. When Dr. Weissman (my papa’s doctor who went on the trip with him) was done with signing in, he wheeled my papa down the middle of two long lines of people clapping for him and giving him gifts like he was the president! When we met up with them on the other side papa was amazed along with the rest of us. We approached a security checkpoint, where they gave him more goodies, such as a snack bag, a T-shirt, a badge and a magazine. We sent him off at last and were excited to hear all about the experience and the food when we went back to the airport at 10 p.m. When we arrived back at the airport at night the crowd of people was much bigger. Now there were bagpipers, the police and fire department, still the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and just regular people holding American flags and banners that said “God Bless America.” My papa’s flight had a one-hour delay, but we didn’t find this out until after we got there. So we waited and waited and then we heard the bagpipers starting to play so we quickly rushed to the front of the crowd. We saw veterans of all ages starting to come out and their guardians. My papa was the last one out and when we saw him I started tearing up because seeing that huge smile on his face just made him the happiest person in the world.

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Unfortunately, my papa passed away suddenly on Christmas Eve. Our whole family misses him.

If you would like to donate, visit honorflight.org