It’s hard to imagine that nearly 70 years ago men far younger than me left their farms and the small Iowa towns like Sheffield, Meservey and Manly that dot the Iowa map to fight in a war half a world away in Europe, Africa and the Pacific. I recently joined some of those men as they made another monumental journey. This time it was a one-day trip to Washington D.C. to see the World War II monument built in their honor.
I was lucky enough to be asked to go along to help the veterans on the Winnebago Honor Flight and take some photos to document the trip. For me it was a deep honor to give some of my time and skill back to the men who defended our liberty and democracy.
The trip was a pilgrimage for me too. When I was young I spent many days after school researching information about my family’s involvement in World War II. That research years later led me to the very courtroom where my great uncle stood watch over the top Nazi generals during the Nuremberg trial in Germany. I was never able to talk to him or my grandfather about their experiences in the war; sadly they both had passed away just after my birth.
It was a warm day in Washington. As I pushed wheel chairs, helped the men on and off buses, I made sure they had plenty of water. I also asked questions and most of all I listened to their stories. Each had plenty of stories about their experiences in the war. Those experiences were still vivid in their mind as they visited the WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Iwo Jima and Lincoln Memorials. With all of the joy and excitement wrapped around that day it was hard not to think that at some point these heroes will be gone. Without the stories that they share with their children, grandchildren, teachers and students all the memories and perspectives they hold will be lost to the passages of time.
Later that week I drove through small communities and the countryside while taking photos and working on stories for Iowa Farm Bureau. It was hard not to think of all the soldiers from those very towns and their untold stories; boys that left their homes in the bread basket of the world during one of the pivotal moments for America in the 20th century then came back as heroes who quietly went about their business raising their families, building their communities and feeding the world.
I know that I will never forget all the veterans that I met that day on the Winnebago Honor Flight to Washington D.C. I have already started to share their stories with my children so another generation can appreciate the sacrifices they made to protect our freedoms.
You can view more photos from the Honor Flight here: Honor Flight Gallery
Written by Joe Murphy
Joe is a photographer and writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.