Monday, September 21, 2015

Guardian's impressions of Stars and Stripes Honor Flight

Aaron Cassidy and Huby "Buddy" Duty
About the author: Aaron Cassidy is a senior power marketing analyst for We Energies.

I had only known Huby Duty, a.k.a. “Buddy,” for three days, but on Tuesday, Sept. 15, I was eager to call him and wish him a happy 90th birthday and see how he spent his day. He is the kind of person you want to keep talking to because of his humor and personal stories; however, we found ourselves reminiscing for quite a while about the first day we met, just three days prior.

I met Buddy on Sept. 12, 2015, when I represented We Energies as a guardian on the 29th Stars and Stripes Honor Flight (SSHF) to Washington, D.C.. Buddy is a World War II veteran who was a Sherman tank driver and gunner in the 3rd Army’s 78th Infantry, Company B 709th Tank Battalion. His primary engagement during the war was in the European Theater, specifically during the Battle of Bulge. For his service during World War II, he was awarded the EAME (European-African-Middle Eastern) Theater Ribbon with three bronze stars, a Purple Heart, a Good Conduct medal, and a WWII Victory medal.

From the moment I met Buddy at 5 a.m., until we said our goodbyes at 11 p.m., we both experienced events over those 18 hours that words cannot adequately describe. With Buddy never having been to Washington before, everything was grander than he had imagined. As we flew to and from Washington on a Boeing 747 to tour the memorials, Buddy kept saying in a soft and genuine manner, “This is just great.” But his eyes, which scanned around constantly, truly showed the emotion and meaning of this flight.

On the flight back to Milwaukee, the SSHF volunteers perfectly executed the “Mail Call”– a throwback to when soldiers on the front would receive letters from back home. On the flight, all 182 veteran’s names were called and a bundle of letters was delivered to their seats. Buddy and other veterans were so excited to open thoughtful letters from their family, friends and also We Energies employees. They were moved to read the kind comments and wishes from people they had never met.

When we arrived at the gate and began unloading the plane, Buddy thought the day was complete; however, the evening was just getting started.

As we entered Concourse D, we walked through a salute from approximately 140 servicemen/servicewomen. No matter which branch of the Armed Forces these veterans served, it was a powerful moment to see active duty servicemen/servicewomen, respecting and saluting the veterans from World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War. I felt privileged to witness such an honorable and genuine moment of respect and gratitude. During that time, I recorded the moment for Buddy and his family to watch together after the flight.

After the salute, Buddy was in for another surprise when we passed through security and entered the upper level of General Mitchell Airport, where he was greeted by an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people. He told me shortly after the parade that he “felt like a politician, with all the applause and handshaking.”

To see family, friends, and strangers ranging in age from toddler to adult rally together at such a late hour to ensure these heroes received a well-deserved reception is something I will always remember. It made me think about my own grandfather, a World War II veteran, who I never had the chance to meet or hear him tell his stories. I am certain he would have deeply appreciated that moment.

As Buddy and I wrapped up his birthday call, I asked, “Now that everything has settled down and you have had time to reflect on the Honor Flight, what was your favorite moment?”

He reflected for a moment and said cheerfully, “Everything.”

He proceeded to thank the We Energies Foundation for the flight’s sponsorship, his own personal copy of “Honor Flight – A Visual Journey” and a letter of recognition from Mr. Klappa. He said what We Energies did for this organization is amazing. He greatly appreciated the opportunity to be part of the 29th mission and thanked me for my guardianship. I told him it was our pleasure and thanked him for his service.

At that moment and throughout the trip, I was greatly appreciative of the opportunity to be part of the mission and very proud to work for a company that makes events like this a priority. And I can’t say enough about SSHF as an organization. Prior to my trip, I did not realize the amount of effort necessary to make an Honor Flight successful. This organization’s planning, coordination and execution as a 100-percent volunteer organization, with no central office, is an amazing accomplishment. From their Wheelchair Brigade to board of directors, thank you to Stars and Stripes Honor Flight for making the 29th mission a success.

As I was ending the call, Buddy kept saying he was so happy and appreciative and will remember it forever. I will as well.


Barb said...

As a past guardian-November 2013, I love to read your comments. It was THE best day ever! The organization is exceptional. Everyone was treated like royalty. From the breakfast at Milwaukee to the motorcycle escorted trip to the memorials, to Arlington and back home, I felt like I was in a dream. My friend was overwhelmed with the experience. It was like a living history lesson. Thanks for sharing!

Dan Moyle said...

What a wonderful point of view. Thank you to We Energies for supporting SSHF. As a member of the Honor Flight family (with Talons Out in Michigan) it warms my heart to see such great community partners out there. Thank you for sharing your story of Buddy with us, Aaron!