As DAR members across the nation celebrated those who have protected our freedom, I hope you had the opportunity to attend special Veterans Day events to express gratitude to those who have served our country in uniform.
It was a privilege to participate in a Veterans Day event in Houston thanks to some of our dedicated DAR members in Texas. After attending Continental Congress and seeing the presentation of the Media Award for Honor Flight – One Last Mission which had a special showing in Constitution Hall in December 2012, Twila Carter Ilgen and other devoted members initiated a project to bring the Honor Flight movie to Houston. Twila is the Project Manager for the Houston Astros, and owner Jim Crane quickly agreed to open Minute Maid Park for the movie to be shown on the largest screen in Major League Baseball.
A small team of dedicated volunteers worked for months to plan and publicize the event which was free to the public. In addition to the support of corporate sponsors, TXDAR distributed T-shirts to every veteran, American Flags to every attendee and supplied more than 250 volunteers from across the state. We were pleased that Suzy Earing of Maryland, DAR Service for Veterans National Chair, and Kathy Hanlon of Texas, National Defense National Chair, could be with us.
The celebration began with a dinner Sunday evening sponsored by Helping A Hero, a non-profit organization begun by DAR member Meredith Iler to build over 100 specially adapted homes for wounded warriors in 22 states.
Twenty of the young combat veterans, most of which were single or double amputees, spoke of their experiences and their gratitude for having a home in which they can safely navigate. SPC Aaron Estes, USA (Ret) shared with me how grateful he was for the DAR supported clothes closet at Brooke Army Medical Center as he arrived from Landstuhl with nothing but a sheet covering him due to the severity of his injuries.
Monday morning the French Consul General presented Legion of Honor medals to eight World War II veterans who had served in France. Created to honor extraordinary contributions to the country, the Legion of Honor is France’s highest distinction and may be awarded to living veterans of World War II who fought in at least one of the three main campaigns of the Liberation of France. Following a breakfast for these recipients, we had an opportunity to visit several tables with information for the veterans including one hosted by TXDAR to encourage veterans to record their oral history for the Library of Congress. Thousands of cards handmade by area students were displayed around the stadium and we enjoyed reading their messages.
Another very popular exhibit included the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration. It was so moving to see the impact on these veterans as an active duty officer formally thanked them for their service to our country and presented them with pins and bumper stickers. I observed one gentleman looking repeatedly at the bumper sticker he held which said a grateful nation appreciates his service.
When visiting the table later, I saw a tall Vietnam veteran sobbing on the petite shoulders of Col. Deborah Grays when she thanked him for his service. Col. Grays is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and her eyes filled with tears as she comforted him. As you know, it is our goal for every chapter to be a commemorative partner and to honor those who served, many of whom often go without the support and appreciation of our citizens. Please visit the Vietnam War Commemoration website for more information about how you can honor these veterans and their families and help with the healing process.
Following a private luncheon for the 300 World War II veterans and their families, we enjoyed performances by musicians Gary Morris and Tracy Byrd. A vintage aircraft flew overhead and sky divers dropped into the stadium carrying large Texas and American flags while a group of 40 volunteers held a 30 x 60’ flag on the field.
Texas State Regent Pamela Wright and I were escorted to the platform on the field and gave brief remarks about DAR’s commitment to serving our veterans and our gratitude for their service. Other speakers included Astros owner Jim Crane, Col. Grays and Clay Broga, the producer of the Honor Flight movie. The most popular speaker was Col. George McDowell, USA (Ret.), a World War II veteran who had recently celebrated his 100th birthday. He regaled us with tales of his encounters with General Patton and received a standing ovation from the audience of thousands.
Finally, it was time to view Honor Flight which profiles the journey of a group of World War II veterans from Wisconsin as they traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial. It is such a moving tribute to the Greatest Generation and there was not a dry eye in the place.
A small team of women from many different DAR chapters worked to make this day possible and one we shall never forget. I can assure you every veteran in that stadium knew how grateful DAR is for their service to our country! Truthfully, I’ve never been prouder to be a DAR member.