Visiting vets say thanks for hospitality

The Middle Tennessee Honor Flight veterans and their guardians get ready to head to BWI Airport for their flight home. (Photo by Phil Grout)

After touring war memorials in Washington, D.C., a group of 27 veterans from the Honor Flight of Middle Tennessee visited the Freedom Inn Dining Facility on Sept. 21 for dinner and to give thanks to the agencies on post that support the organization’s frequent trips to Fort Meade.

Rob Moreland, a member of the Honor Flight of Middle Tennessee’s board of directors and the coordinator of the trip, said the group has visited Fort Meade twice a year for the past four years.

“The reception [here] has always been good,” Moreland said.

Enjoying dinner at the Freedom Inn is a highlight for the veterans whenever they visit, he said.

Last week’s group included veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

“It’s a treat for these guys to see a dining facility,” Moreland said. “They’ve all used mess halls. If they served in World War II or Korea, they never ate in a facility — it was a tent.”

The group is part of the Honor Flight Network, which was founded 11 years ago and transports veterans from 44 states to visit the nation’s war memorials.

They dined at the Freedom Inn after touring the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials in Washington, D.C. They also visited Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“It was good,” said Ronald Smith said of the trip to Washington, D.C. “I enjoyed it.”

Smith, a former sergeant who served in the Vietnam War for a year, survived a land mine explosion in 1967 and carried three of his fellow Soldiers to safety during the attack. He later was awarded an Army Commendation Medal for heroism.

Smith said he first visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall about a decade ago and saw the names of several comrades engraved in the memorial’s gabbro (a type of coarse-grained) wall.

During the group’s 45-minute visit at Fort Meade, Moreland presented a plaque of appreciation to Lt. Col. Seamus Garrett, director of the Directorate of Emergency Services, and Dwight Wongus, director of the Logistics Readiness Center, for their support of the Honor Flight organization.

“It’s very unexpected, an honor and appreciated,” Garrett said after receiving the award. “They are national treasures.”

Each time the group visits, the bus is escorted on and off post by the Fort Meade military police and state troopers, said Garrett.

Wongus said he accepted the plaque on behalf of the 56 employees of the Freedom Inn.

“I’m somewhat excited and surprised at the same time,” Wongus said. “I never thought we warranted any type of award for doing our job.”

The Fort Meade Public Affairs Office also received a plaque of appreciation for helping to arrange the group’s visits.

On behalf of Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard, Garrett thanked the veterans for their commitment to the nation.

“The jobs that you all did and the sacrifices that you made allow us and the kids that you saw here tonight to enjoy the freedoms that we have today,” he said.

Garrett said all who wear the uniform do not take the veterans’ sacrifices for granted.

“From everybody in the Fort Meade community, thank you for coming here tonight,” he said.

As the veterans finished their dinner and boarded their bus to catch a flight back to Tennessee, Moreland said the trip will be a fond memory for them.

“This is just a different kind of experience for the veterans,” he said. “They will talk about it on the bus on the way home.”

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