“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” – Joseph Campbell
The Newman University Chorale recently sang two welcoming performances of “God Bless America” to veterans as they returned to Wichita on the Kansas Honor Flight.
The Kansas Honor Flight is an organization of volunteers who work to honor Kansas veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War by giving them an all-expense-paid trip to visit their memorials in Washington, D.C.
The program strives to give war veterans the welcome home they deserve for their dedicated service. Each Kansas Honor Flight ends with an organized celebration where loved ones, friends and volunteers can gather at the airport and join in the welcome home festivities.
This return home was especially memorable.
Honoring Kansas veterans
On Oct. 29, a TV screen in the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport lobby showed live video of the veterans as they made their way across the passenger boarding bridge into the airport terminal. In the airport lobby, families and friends excitedly awaited the veterans’ arrival with decorated signs, American flags and patriotic balloons in tow.
Joined by the cheerleaders of Maize High School, volunteers of the Kansas Honor Flight encouraged attendees to clap, cheer and whistle loudly for the veterans as they made their way down the escalator to the gathering space. As soon as the servicemen and servicewomen were visible, the lobby erupted with musical bagpipes and cheers.
The veterans made their way through the clapping crowd into a sectioned-off welcoming space. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Instructor and Director of the Music Department Deanne Zogleman directed her 17 Chorale students in singing “God Bless America.”
For several of the Chorale students, the experience of singing “God Bless America” to war veterans was particularly meaningful.
“My grandfather fought in Korea, so it was a nice way to welcome him back through giving that welcome to others,” senior Rebekah Lipinski said. “In a way, I feel like I’m giving back to him and then all of my uncles, my dad and my brothers who were all in the military.”
Senior Austin Schwartz said that singing to veterans of the Kansas Honor Flight had to be “one of the most meaningful things we’ve done as a Chorale.”
“It’s a privilege that we were invited to come and welcome them back home,” Schwartz said. “Equally, I kind of think of it as getting to welcome home my Papa, who passed away and never did get an actual welcome home.”
A purposeful program
Jo Ann Duncan’s husband, Herb, started the Kansas Honor Flight program for Wichita veterans in 2012.
“My husband served in Vietnam and they told him not to wear his uniform when he was going to fly back home,” Duncan said. “You can just see in these veterans’ faces, how this kind of welcome helps. We do see some smiling as they’re walking down and for others, we see tears in their eyes.”
According to the Kansas Honor Flight website, veterans who have experienced the journey of honor and remembrance as they visit their memorials in D.C. call it “the experience of a lifetime.”
Duncan has received multiple calls from family members who expressed the lasting impression of the program on its veterans.
“They’ll say, ‘Yeah, grandpa was up at two o’clock this morning talking about it and it just meant so much,’” Duncan said. “So it’s very meaningful for them. And for us, just to be a part of it is so special.”
Zogleman said she was honored and felt blessed to be a part of the past two Kansas Honor Flight arrivals.
“Lloyd, who helps organize these events, called me and said ‘I hear you have a wonderful group,’ and would we be interested in giving a performance,” Zogleman said. “He gave us a few dates and I checked with the students, and a couple of our faculty members let these kids out of class, which was very appreciated.”
Zogleman added, “I loved the fact that we were working together so these students could participate in such a wonderful event. I think they felt as honored as I did to be a part of this because this is pretty incredible.”