In the year 1941 our nation, a nation of democracy and laws, was thrust into the greatest conflict the world has ever known.
Democracy ultimately prevailed, we ultimately prevailed. It was our “greatest generation” that transformed America into a single congruent beast, a war machine, sufficiently tenacious and voracious to consume and destroy those regimes that made a mockery of democracy and held the free world hostage.
A few of those brave men and women remain today, though the inevitable march of time continues to diminish their ranks.
As a law student I suffered through the unavoidable constitutional law courses and the accompanying 1,704-page textbook. I was taught about the adaptability and durability of the foundational document of our nation, the Constitution.
I was made to understand the unique qualities of our Constitution provided for the unrivaled longevity of our democracy.
Missing from these courses, however, was any sense of the adaptability and durability of the people who have stepped forward during times of great peril to ensure the endurance of America.
I learned more about these great men and women when I had the privilege of flying as a guardian with three World War II veterans on the most recent Emerald Coast Honor Flight one week ago today. The trip took about 100 World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., and back in a single day to view the World War II Memorial, the Marines’ Iwo Jima Memorial and several other monuments to wars and presidents past. The program is organized locally by the office of U.S. Representative Jeff Miller and funded completely through donations. The veterans pay nothing.
We arrived at the Pensacola airport before 5 a.m., and our return flight did not touch back down in Pensacola until 7 that evening.
It was a whirlwind tour, and the trip was a trying one, even for someone born 38 years after the end of the war. I was utterly exhausted at the end of the day.
Among the three veterans I was assigned to accompany throughout the journey were a Marine who was injured on the shores of Iwo Jima, a naval aviator who landed on aircraft carriers and a Navy Seabee responsible for building vital war infrastructure throughout the Pacific. Each of these men contributed substantially to the war effort. None had ever been given the opportunity to view the World War II Memorial erected on the National Mall in their honor. It was a humbling experience to be given the opportunity to spend a day with those great gentlemen and to witness them viewing the Memorial for the first time.
My naval aviator was every bit of 88 years old, and his body reflected his service to his country and the tremendous life that he led. He was on supplemental oxygen for much of the day. We were rarely separated as I manned the wheelchair that provided him with greater mobility around the memorials. At the Korean War Memorial he insisted on having his picture taken with me out of gratitude for my assistance despite the fact I was there for the purpose of showing my gratitude to him. But, as I learned throughout the day, such acts were merely a reflection of the tremendous character of our greatest generation.
By the end of the day my naval aviator was tired.
Medical complications arose on the return flight.
By Thursday morning he was gone, a casualty to the inevitability of time. But he lived to see his Memorial. I am grateful for that, and I believe he was too. I have my hat from the flight bearing autographs of two of my three heroes of the day. The third fell ill and passed away before he could sign. I may not have three signatures on my cap, but I will always have the lessons of freedom learned from a day with three great men that no law class could ever hope to impart.
Nathan D. Boyles is a Crestview attorney. This column is intended for general educational and entertainment purposes and is not legal advice. Every situation is unique. If you have a legal issue you should contact a lawyer who can provide counsel.