Vidalia Veteran Takes
United States Army veteran Jim Shepherd, of Vidalia, spent 27 years serving in the military through a variety of command and staff assignments, primarily in Airborne and Special Forces, before his retirement in June 1990. Of his military experiences, one of the most significant events in which the Colonel took part was the Vietnam War. Shepherd may not have received the gratitude he deserved when he came home from that war, but on September 10, he received belated honors for his service as he participated in the Middle Georgia Honor Flight program. “Coming home from Vietnam in that era, I did not get much recognition for my service,” Shepherd said of the widespread public opposition of the war and the lack of support of veterans in that era. “It really nullified what had happened, but this honexperience continued from page
or flight really made it feel like what I went through was worth it,” Shepherd remarked.
Leading Up to the Flight
After finding out about the honor flight program through the Internet, Shepherd was keen on taking part in the experience, which allowed over 245,000 veterans from across the country to fly to Washington D.C., and tour war monuments as a “thank you” for their service to the nation. The closest of the 129 Honor Flight hubs in the country was the Middle Georgia Honor Flight, stationed in Macon, which was established in 2018. Shepherd applied to take part in the opportunity several years ago; but because of World War II veterans receiving first priority and because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the program temporarily, it was not until this year that Shepherd was contacted again when the program resumed.
Shepherd attended a coordination meeting at the Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins a month before his flight to discuss all the details of the schedule and events, and was assigned a “guardian” travel companion. “My guardian was from Warner Robins, and had a daughter and sister who also served as guardians. They were very passionate about the honor flight opportunity,” he reminisced.
On September 10, Shepherd boarded the plane during the early morning hours alongside 13 other veterans — 2 World War II veterans, 1 Korean War veteran, and 10 Vietnam War veterans — and several guardians at the Macon Airport to make the trip to Washington, D.C. As the veterans walked to the plane, members of the United States Air Force saluted the veterans, and each veteran was presented a box of goodies for the travel and a veteran’s hat for each of their respective wars.
Adventure in Washington, D.C.
The plane arrived at the Baltimore-Washington Airport later that morning, and the group was greeted by an arch of water being shot over the plane by an Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) truck as the aircraft taxied to the terminal. “It was really cool,” Shepherd commented on the welcome. “There were tons of surprises the entire day.”
Once in D.C., the veterans were assigned a military guardian, similar to their previously assigned guardian, yet with the military experience in common with the veteran. Shepherd’s military guardian was a military intelligence officer named Max Sy, whom Shepherd described as being a “delight” to get to know.
Among the many monuments and sites the group toured were Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the United States Navy Memorial.
Shepherd said one of the most memorable monuments was the Air Force Memorial, because of the view of the Pentagon that was available from that location. “The Air Force Memorial is on a hill overlooking the Pentagon,” he explained. “From that hill, you could see where the Pentagon had been repaired from the 9/11 attacks.”
He also shared that around 100 veterans — 5 busloads —fromother honor flights were also at that site, allowing him to meet other veterans. Among those he met during his time in D.C., Shepherd said it was a pair of sisters that he spoke with while at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial that were among the most memorable. The sisters’ grandfather had been killed in World War II and his remains had recently been identified. “They were in Washington, D.C., to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery,” Shepherd said.
End of the Trip
Once their day in D.C. was finished, the group boarded their homebound plane, where the veterans were surprised with bags of “air mail,” which contained congratulatory letters from loved ones of each veteran. Shepherd received his letters from his family and Sunday School class. The participants were greeted by a multitude of festivities once they arrived home, including bagpipers, Uncle Sam on stilts, and around 200 people. “It was a great experience,” Shepherd reflected. “I was amazed at the logistics of it all and how smooth everything ran. I’m really glad I got to be a part of it. I encourage anyone who is looking for a worthwhile cause in which to invest to donate to the Honor Flight program, as it is run by a nonprofit organization and really gives veterans the opportunity of a lifetime.”