Editorials

November 11, 2014

Honoring Our Soldiers: A Very Special JetBlue Flight to Washington DC

This year, the observation of Veterans Day began a day early, with a very special flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. As part of the celebration surrounding the introduction of JetBlue’s latest special livery, “Vets in Blue,” the airline operated an honor flight to Washington DC’s Ronald Reagan National Airport. Onboard were a contingent of soldiers and veterans, who were off to experience a jam-packed day of festivities and remembrances in the nation’s capital.

20141110-IMG_3069The day began bright and early in New York. After clearing security, we proceeded to Gate 20 for the departure festivities. While preparations were well underway, there was one thing missing: an airplane. We didn’t have to wait long though. Shortly after 7:00 our ride for the day, the newly painted Vets in Blue aircraft, taxied into position. This was very much a surprise for the approximately 120 soldiers, veterans, and cadets who would be making the journey to Washington. Our flight this morning would be the very first with passengers for the newly painted aircraft.

The Victory Belles performing at our gate.

The Victory Belles performing at our gate.

While some of the invited guests shared stories with each other, others popped in to the photo booth that JetBlue had set up. And a breakfast smorgasbord, provided by Dunkin Donuts, filled everybody’s stomach. Before long, we found ourselves being entertained by the Victory Belles, a trio that performed songs from the World War II era. Next, Mike Elliott and Jeff Martin from JetBlue introduced the plane and the crew. Our flight and cabin crew members for today’s flight were all veterans.

With the formalities now complete, it was time to step onboard. Without a bevy of carry-on luggage, boarding moved swiftly and soon it was time to push back. After the customary water cannon salute provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s ARFF unit, the Captain announced that we had been given priority clearance and that we were second in line to depart.

A video posted by Ben Granucci (@blgranucci) on


20141110-IMG_3254The flight down to Washington was quick and uneventful. The crew ran an abbreviated snack and drink service during the short time that we were in the air. Before long, we were on the ground at DCA. After another water cannon salute, we pulled into the gate. Retired General Stanley McChrystal, a member of JetBlue’s Board of Directors, came onboard and briefly addressed the plane full of guests. Then, as we disembarked, we were greeted by a receiving line of JetBlue employees, soldiers, and volunteers with the Honor Flight Network. Even a few members of the public who were traveling that day stepped in to lend their applause. The outpouring of support for these soldiers and veterans was impressive.

20141110-IMG_3296We proceeded through the terminal to an area with a great view of the airport, where a buffet lunch was already being served. As the invited guests made their plates, the JetBlue team at DCA towed Vets in Blue into position right outside the windows. It was the perfect backdrop for the event. Shortly before noon, a presentation by executives from JetBlue and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) began. They spoke of the significance of this plane, of this particular flight, and of JetBlue’s growing presence at DCA. General McChrystal spoke of what it is like for a soldier to travel home, and what an emotional experience that can be. After the MWAA and the General were presented with models of Vets in Blue, we enjoyed a performance by the USO Show Troupe. Finally, it was time to board our buses for a tour of Washington DC. We departed DCA under a substantial police escort that would remain with us throughout the afternoon.

20141110-IMG_3524Our first stop on the tour was the brand new Disabled American Veterans Memorial, located just off the National Mall near the US Capitol. This memorial just opened at the beginning of October, and features glass and stone walls along with a large reflecting pool. All around the memorial are cedar and ginkgo trees. These were selected because of their resiliency, a trait shared by the same veterans memorialized by the site. It was a very moving moment for many of the veterans, some of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

20141110-IMG_3549Next, we drove past the Library of Congress and Supreme Court enroute to the World War II memorial. This large memorial features an oval of stone pillars representing each US State and Territory from which soldiers in the War fought. These pillars connect 2 large archways, one representing the Atlantic and the other representing the Pacific. Surrounding the base of each of these archways was an inscription of each of the battles fought in that theater of operations. After leaving the World War II Memorial, we walked to the Lincoln Memorial. We spent a little while there before reboarding our buses.

20141110-IMG_3688

 

Next on the schedule (which we had thus far managed to stay ahead of the whole day), was a driving tour of several more sites. After making a couple of loops around the Iwo Jima Monument, we drove through Arlington National Cemetery, a drive reserved for veterans and the families of soldiers interred there.

Passing the Pentagon, a volunteer from the Honor Flight Network who was acting as our tour guide pointed out the far lighter stone that marks where that building was struck on 9/11. Then we proceeded up a nearby hill to view the three curving spires of the Air Force Memorial. And then, all too soon, it was time to make our way back to DCA to begin our journey home.

20141110-IMG_3709Arriving at the airport, we were whisked through a quick security screening before proceeding to the gate. Vets in Blue was already there waiting for us. After a short wait, it was time to board. As we pushed back, our eyes were glued to the window to watch the huge contingent of airline personnel that had assembled to see us off. Some saluted us, while others waved, as we passed through our third and final water cannon salute of the day. The captain surprisingly announced that there was nobody ahead of us for departure, and within a minute or two we were in the air, illuminated by an incredible red sunset.

20141110-IMG_3755The flight back to New York was quick and quiet. JetBlue had been distributing prizes throughout the day, and the last few were handed out on this leg. Almost as soon as we reached our cruising altitude, it was time to begin our descent. Before we knew it, we were back where we started at Gate 20. The day finished with a warm welcome back from a number of JetBlue employees, including President and incoming CEO Robin Hayes.

Although it had been a long and busy day, it cannot be overstated just how much all of the day’s events affected the soldiers and veterans who were on hand. Watching them catch their first glimpse of the jet that was newly painted in their honor was nothing short of incredible. The solemness of visiting the sites of Washington DC that were created in their honor and memory was inspiring. On this Veterans Day, it is important to remember just how great of a sacrifice these brave men and women have made for their country.

PHOTO GALLERY: Vets In Blue

Click to view slideshow

About the Honor Flight Network

The National World War II Memorial, dedicated in May 2004, was created in honor of the 16 million members of the armed services and more than 400,000 service members who selflessly gave their lives during World War II. Through its numerous regional hubs and volunteers, the Honor Flight Network has transported over 100,000 American war veterans to see the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. – a trip that many of these veterans may not have made on their own.

Honor Flight Network was created Earl Morse, a retired Air Force Captain who cared for veterans through his job as a physician assistant. After learning that many of the war heroes he spoke with wanted to visit the memorial but were unable to due to financial or medical reasons, he took action. Morse began flying veterans to the memorial personally, and he recruited other pilots to do the same, ensuring that  In January 2005, Honor Flight was born, and by May the organization had flown its first missions.

By 2006, the organization had grown so much that commercial flights were being used to transport numerous veterans to the memorial, and interest in various regional programs meant that Honor Flight was transformed into Honor Flight Network, with 127 hubs in 41 different states, all in the name of helping our World War II veterans achieve their dreams of seeing the memorial created to honor them.

The flags of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, displayed in JFK's Terminal 5. Below them is a fallen comrades table ceremony, honoring those killed and missing in action.

The flags of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, displayed in JFK’s Terminal 5. Below them is a fallen comrades table ceremony, honoring those killed and missing in action.

Ben Granucci, Standards Editor, is an aviation enthusiast and plane spotter based in New York City. Growing up in Connecticut, he has had his eyes toward the sky for as long as he can remember. He can be reached on Twitter at @BLGranucci or through his blog at Landing-Lights.com.

NYCAviation Managing Editor Sarina Houston contributed to this story.

 



About the Author

Ben Granucci
Ben Granucci, Senior Editor, is an aviation enthusiast and plane spotter based in New York City. Growing up in Connecticut, he has had his eyes toward the sky for as long as he can remember. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.




 
 

 

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  • Dave

    What a great experience for you Ben. I have never been to DC personally, but that sounds like the perfect tour to me.