© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A hero's welcome for Connecticut veterans at the U.S. Capitol — a photo essay

Brian Scott-Smith
/
WSHU
Moe Brassard, 94, reflects on his life as a veteran during a trip to the World War II Memorial with Honor Flight Connecticut, which brings military heroes to visit Washington D.C.

Sirens blare, and crowds cheer.

Brian Scott-Smith
/
WSHU
Connecticut State Police escorting veterans to Bradley International Airport who are being celebrated with a trip to visit national monuments in Washington D.C.

They arrived in a presidential-style cavalcade, led by State Police, to Bradley International Airport in the early hours of the morning. Flags waved for the veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

These are pictures of 47 Connecticut veterans who were celebrated with a tour of the national memorials in Washington D.C. It’s a mainstay program of the nonprofit Honor Flight Connecticut that makes sure these trips include fanfare for military heroes.

Reuniting veterans

“I welcome you to your day of honor, and from all of us here at Honor Flight, a welcome home,” said Dan Sparks, the group’s co-founder.

For many of the veterans, this day will be their first time seeing the war memorials at the U.S. Capitol and for others a return journey to remember military service members killed in action and those who have died in recent years.

Hallowed ground

The first stop in D.C. is at Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to see the changing of the guard. A subtle, unspoken message from the Sentinels, acknowledged the veterans by scraping their shoe across the concrete flagstones as they carried out their intricate public display.

Brian Scott-Smith
/
WSHU
Veterans watch the change of the guard of the Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

This is 94-year-old Moe Brassard’s second time at the World War II Memorial.

“This here means a lot to me because there were a lot of veterans on this tour bus,” Brassard said.

“There’s only eight of us for World War II. And from my understanding there’s only 170,000 left of Wold War II veterans,” he said. “I am one of the fortunate ones and blessed.”

Hundreds of colored t-shirts can be seen at every memorial. They identify veterans from various Honor Flight chapters from across the nation. “Means a lot to see all these people that are interested in staying free,” Korean War veteran Rick Osborne said. “I hope these people are, they come here and see that we’ve got to hold on to what we got and don’t give in.”

Lasting memories

It was a whirlwind of a day, and a long-awaited tribute to the men and women of the military who served years ago to protect our freedoms today. As the evening draws to a close, A local fire station hosts a dinner with Honor Flight before the group heads back to the airport for the flight home.

Brian Scott-Smith
/
WSHU
Bagpipers welcome the veterans back to Connecticut after their Honor Flight trip.

This trip has brought happy and somber memories.

Husband-and-wife Vietnam veterans Dee and Donna Smith recall how they met each other. Dee’s friend set him up on a blind date.

“We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”
Dan Sparks quoting Will Rogers, American vaudeville performer

“She’s a really nice person,” Dee Smith said. “So, he introduced me to Donna and we started dating for about a year and then we got married.

Donna cut in: “Well, when he met me I was working in the newborn nursery unit, and so I was covered in my white uniform and my mask so he really couldn’t see what I looked like until a later date.”

And it’s here that Sparks and his team begin “mail call.” Instead of receiving news on the frontlines while on duty, today’s letters are from the veterans’ family and friends.
Vietnam veteran Richard Hanratty reads his letter. “This is from my kids and my grandkids, about all the things they remember we did together.”

The emotions are overwhelming.

“And usually as life goes on when you hear about these things you don’t know what impact you may or may not have had,” Hanratty said. The best thing he has done with his life, he added, “out of all the things — other than marry this woman here — that I’ve ever done, it’s those kids.”

Brian Scott-Smith
/
WSHU
The Honor Flight Connecticut veterans on their May 2023 trip to Washington D.C.

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.