In a heartwarming tribute to honor the sacrifices and service of our United States Military Veterans, Honor Flight, a national organization, transports a group of Veterans to visit the War Memorials in Washington, D.C. Jilliane Gilbert, FirstLantic Healthcare’s Regional Director of Operations, was among the volunteers to accompany a Vietnam War Veteran, on an unforgettable one-day journey that started at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport this past month. This poignant pilgrimage to our nation’s capital stands as a testament to the enduring respect for our revered heroes.
We asked Jilliane to share her experience with us.
FirstLantic Healthcare: What made you want to participate in Honor Flight?
Jilliane Gilbert: I wanted to give back to my community and to celebrate Veterans Day. I’ve heard about Honor Flight for many years, and I wanted to be a part of a bigger movement. I wanted to pay it forward.
FLHC: Tell us about the Veteran you accompanied to DC.
JG: His name is Murry P. At 20 years old, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during the Vietnam War. He currently lives in Boynton Beach and is married to his beautiful wife, Mary, for 54 years. Born in Pennsylvania, he moved to Massachusetts for the next 30 years. During the time he served, he was placed to work on building missiles and rockets. After he left the U.S. Navy, he went on to work at General Electric for 30 years before retiring. He worked with Elon Musk and helped engineer the Delta, SpaceX, and Falcon missiles that are flying for NASA today. He is an incredibly intelligent man and shared his experience openly with me. It was really intriguing to hear about the people he met, the places he’s been, and the things he did. He will be a forever friend. We are planning to see each other soon.
FLHC: How many Veterans were on board?
JG: There were 76 Veterans on board the American Airlines flight. One from World War II, one from the Korean War, and the rest served in the Vietnam War.
FLHC: What was the highlight of the trip for you?
JG: There were two events I will never forget. One is Mail Call. American Airline pilots stand at the front of the plane and call the name, branch, and position of each Veteran. The Veteran then raises their hand. The pilots pass envelopes down the aisle to be handed to each Veteran. In the envelopes were messages and postcards from their loved ones who we contacted in secrecy before the trip so they would be surprised. My Veteran had 22 cards. It was amazing to watch him open each card with tears running down his face. He was so touched. The second event would be the awe-inspiring welcome from the “homecoming crowd” at each airport. From the hundreds of people lined up to pay their respects, to a little boy standing by the coach buses as the Veterans boarded. They were excited to say hello and thank them for their service. You could hear, “Welcome home, Soldier!” and see how moving this was to our Veterans.
FLHC: Is there a moment that moved you most?
JG: The Changing of the Guard which takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Beautiful, peaceful and so powerful. Seeing our group of Vets watch and then share story after story about the men and women lost in the time they were in the military. It was nostalgic and emotional, to hear them go back in time. We all just sat there, in awe and listened to their stories of heroism.
FLHC: If you had one takeaway from this experience, what would it be?
JG: Tell a Veteran about this wonderful program, Honor Flight. It is truly a thank you to all Veterans. The appreciation that should have been shown to every single Veteran when they came back to this country was now deeply welcomed. They felt so special and grateful. If you have a chance to volunteer for this operation, DO IT! Just be prepared. There is not a dry eye the entire time, from the moment you arrive at the airport at 3:30 AM to the goodbyes upon return at 10:30 PM. It is amazing to see how many people this has touched. This priceless experience will forever be engraved in our hearts and heads.
FirstLantic Healthcare has been serving the South Florida community since 2000. If you or someone you know needs home healthcare services in South Florida, FirstLantic can help. We are locally owned and operated, providing our patients with the best home care services in Fort Lauderdale (Broward County) and Delray Beach (Palm Beach County) since 2000. We have also been named Top Workplaces by the Sun Sentinel for 8 years in a row. Click here to contact us.
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