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Memorializing Service

Honor Flight program an unforgettable journey for local military veteran

William “Bill” J. Bross Jr. spent four years in the Navy during the era of the Korean War, from 1952 to 1956. His service remains part of the many stories he has shared with his family over the years. This past spring, he was honored to participate in the national Honor Flight program.

“We’ve been wanting to do this forever,” says Carol Bross-McMahon, Bill’s daughter. “He talks about his time in the Navy so much. We grew up knowing how proud he was of his service. Now that I work on my own, I was able to get us scheduled for an Honor Flight.”

The Honor Flight program provides a guided tour of the nation’s war memorials in Washington, D.C., for war veterans. At first, the program was offered to World War II veterans and now includes Korean War and even Vietnam War veterans. The program sets a date and schedules an entire plane full of veterans to travel together, along with one “chaperone” each, usually a friend or family member. The chaperones offer companionship and make sure that the day goes well for the veterans.

“My job was to be the photographer, since we didn’t want the vets to have to worry about getting photographs,” says Carol.

These photographs are now part of a treasured collectible, an album assembled with notes about each stop on the Honor Flight.

“Not too many people have this,” says Bill, gesturing to his light-blue Honor Flight photo album. 

Bill was especially excited to get the call from Honor Flight because his flight fell on an auspicious day.

“They said, ‘Your flight will be on April 17, is that okay?’ and it was more than okay; it was my 86th birthday!” says Bill.

Bill’s military service is chronicled on his favorite hat, which now sports an Honor Flight pin. He served at Pearl Harbor, as well as on two different ships in the Navy, which traveled all around Asia. He talks about how the lessons he learned in the military helped him throughout his life.

“You get more confident speaking up and trusting people,” says Bill. “It taught me that everything doesn’t always go your way. On the good conduct medal, it says ‘zeal, fidelity and obedience.’ That last one, obedience: I recognized I needed to turn my life over to the service while I was there.”

His time in service coincided with meeting and getting engaged to his future wife, Mary. After his time in the military, he had a long career working at General Electric from which he is now retired. Bill and Mary have six children, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. To Bill’s happiness, his grandson, Lance Corporal Nicolas Judge, serves with the U.S. Marines.

"I am very proud of Nico continuing the legacy of military personnel in our family," says Bill.

Like many Honor Flight participants, Carol and Bill both recommend it enthusiastically; the experience was very emotional for both of them. 

“There are other guys who deserve to do this more than me," says Bill. “I looked out the plane window and thought, ‘Why am I being treated like a VIP?’ That’s what they made you feel like. It was so humbling.”

Honor Flight Stops

1. Arlington National Cemetery

One of the early stops on the trip was a visit to the nation’s most recognizable military cemetery, Arlington. Here, individuals who lost their lives in the line of duty are given a very solemn and meaningful consideration.

“It was something else—you aren’t even allowed to talk. I hadn’t realized they did this. To see all those grave markers, it’s an emotional thing,” says Bill. “Their respect for the dead was incredible.”

Carol cited the ceremony and reverence of the changing-of-the-guard as one of the trip highlights.

2. Navy Memorial

Rather than being set away from the traffic and bustle of the nation’s capital, the Navy Memorial is right in the thick of things.

“This was a highlight,” says Carol. “It’s right in the middle of D.C. Dad got his picture with the Navy sailor in his cold-weather jacket.”

As Bill’s own branch of the military, this visit was a particularly meaningful addition to the itinerary, though the group also visited other branch’s memorials, including the Air Force and Marine Corps memorials.

3. Korean War Memorial

The Korean War Memorial was an important one for the pair, since Bill served during this conflict. Carol has been to D.C. before, but specifically avoided seeing this memorial so she could see it for the first time with her dad.

“The men are walking through a jungle, and you almost could see it as a flashback of walking through the fields in Korea,” says Bill. “We in the Navy were brothers with these guys.”

While Bill’s missions aboard Navy ships didn’t take him into the heart of South Korea, the main scene the memorial depicts, he felt connected to the experience through his own memories and the lifelike sculptures used in the memorial itself.

4. World War II Memorial

The World War II Memorial is an imposing feature, with plenty to see during the time that the Honor Flight visited. In particular, this was Bill’s chance to remember and commemorate his two cousins, Joseph and Raymond Endress, who died at the very end of World War II as young men in the service. 

When Bill found out he’d been selected for Honor Flight, he said, “I want to bring my cousins with me.” So he and Carol brought their photograph with them.

“We left the photograph at the wall,” says Carol. “It was a meaningful part of the day.”

5. Lincoln Memorial

The day of Honor Flight is a true whirlwind, but every spot on the trip represents a moment in time for those who go. Seeing the larger-than-life statue of Abraham Lincoln, for instance, was quite the mental snapshot.

“This was the only non-war memorial we visited, but it was very cool. By three in the afternoon, we were pretty exhausted walking down those steps!” says Carol. 

Remembering armed conflicts of all kinds, including the Civil War, is part of this special day of United States history and appreciation.

6. Vietnam Memorial

The Vietnam Memorial offers an avant-garde and truly breathtaking reminder of the human toll of war, showcasing both the enormous amount of lives lost and the value of a single person’s bravery. Bill noticed, beyond the monument itself, the impact of having more than 80 veterans and their chaperones there together, accompanying each other.

“You don’t think you leave footprints on this earth, but that day, we left footprints in Washington, D.C.,” says Bill. “We were a band of people--everybody was going through a similar experience to what I was going through.”

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