The first word I can use to describe my last few days is, â€œWow!â€
The first phrase that comes to mind is, â€œOh golly, Iâ€™m tired.â€
I didnâ€™t know when I got to work Thursday that Iâ€™d be leaving for Washington D.C. in less than 24 hours, but thatâ€™s just the way life goes sometimes. With a bit of a crisis for a co-worker cropping up suddenly Thursday evening, I was tagged to take his place photographing the Southwest Minnesota Honor Flight. Not that I could ever, in a million years, hope to be as good as Photog-Extraordinaire Brian Korthals. But, painting on my game face and jotting down a few notes after a frantic phone call to Brian, I packed a few things and prepared to head out.
First, I had to get up at 3 a.m. and meet reporter Laura Grevas at the Globe building. With a mighty yawn, I checked that off my list. We drove to Luverne, hopped on board a bus to Sioux Falls, flew to Washington D.C., then basically did whole thing in reverse after a few hours of sleep.
While in the process, I met some wonderful men who are all heroes in my eyes. Some were silly and fun, some were solemn and quiet, and all are veterans of World War II. Each and every one of them probably got very tired of me sticking a camera in their face and blinding them with flashes, but Iâ€™m hoping when they see the results they will be pleased with my efforts.
I was just in D.C. in June with my sonâ€™s choir group, and never expected to be back so soon. If left to my own devices, I would probably stand and stare at many of the memorials, buildings and pieces of history for hours, so itâ€™s a good thing Iâ€™ve gone with a tour group both times. Iâ€™d probably still be wandering through the Arlington National Cemetery with a camera if I hadnâ€™t had a bus to catch.
I literally took 1,000 photos during the trip, and spent several hours Sunday trying to cut out all that fall into the â€œOh, I donâ€™t think soâ€ category. More than half made the first round. Weâ€™ll see what survives the next.
Iâ€™m afraid to even get started mentioning the stories I heard â€“ how they made me laugh or touched my heart or gave me the urge to hug someone I barely knew. If I start, I may not stop for hours.
But I will tell you a quick tale about sailors. I was standing at the U.S. Navy Memorial snapping pictures and admiring the sight when I noticed one of the veterans trying to take a picture of himself in front of a statue of a sailor wearing a pea coat. I volunteered to take a photo with his camera. Within moments, I was surrounded by ex-sailors holding out cameras of their own.
One of the trip guardians saw me and laughed, knowing I spent 10 years of my marriage as a Navy wife.
â€œHey, Justine,â€ he called out. â€œHow long has it been since you hung out with a group of sailors?â€
Quite a while, guys. Quite a while. More than 15 years, actually. Iâ€™ll tell you one thing that hasnâ€™t changed. They still flirt.
I spent more than a few moments staring at that sailor statue, reliving the times I had witnessed the sight live and in person. The image of my husband walking off with a sea bag slung over his shoulder or waiting for me to greet him after a cruise came rushing back.
One of the ex-sailors noticed my quiet moment and put a friendly arm over my shoulders, tossing me a quick smile.
Then he handed me his camera and strolled over to stand by the statue wearing a cocky grin. Do they hand that grin out to every person that joins the Navy? My husband still has his.
Thanks for the memories, guys. And the smiles, and the stories.