An experience that changed MY LIFE

by Marquis Hilaire
BCHS Battlion Command Sergeant Major

It was really early, so I was pretty tired. Despite my exhaustion, I was really excited to face the day.

Early mornings and flying were never really my cup of tea, but today was different. Today, I was going to Washington D.C. Not just I, but seven other JROTC cadets, would tour the city with American veterans.

JROTC is my second home. I spend most of my time and energy doing what I can for this program. It’s more than a course; it is a family, a form of motivation, or purpose.

I think I speak for all of us when I say I love JROTC. If it weren’t for this program, I never would have had such a privilege as to go on this Honor Flight. I never would have even heard of it. Collier County Honor Flight is run by volunteers who give their time to give back, to illustrate to our veterans that they still have our respect and admiration.

Washington D.C was stunning and the weather was lovely. I was guardian for Senior Master Sergeant (SMSG) Miller McCormack, he preferred Mac, and it was a great experience. We all drove by the Washington and Jefferson Monuments and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum en route to the World War II Memorial.

The fountain surrounded by the columns representing the unified nation was incredible. Mac and I posed in front of the Kentucky pillar – his home state – and the Florida pillar. Afterwards, everyone took a group photo in front of the fountain!

Lunch was provided at the United States Air Force Memorial. The spires rose high above us and shined with a powerful reflection. Mac was a donor to the Memorial’s success and creation and his name was listed within their system and database. He couldn’t hide his joy!

Arlington Cemetery was quiet with respect and we witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. There was one cadet who participated within the placing of the wreath! I was a little jealous… but I was so impressed as well! Seeing how professional and precise the procedure went was hypnotic but also a little intimidating.

Unfortunately, Iwo Jima was undergoing construction, so we traveled to the Lincoln Memorial. Standing next to the huge statue of the 16th President was incredible with the famous Gettysburg Address carved into the walls. Looking out, the reflecting pool displayed the Washington Monument in the waters.

Lincoln was surrounded by other monuments, too. On his left, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I got uncharacteristically emotional when I went to see the wall. Neither Mac nor I knew anyone on the wall, but the thought of those loved ones being gone with no closure put me in a melancholy mood. And to walk away from the wall to see the statue of the women screaming into the sky, crying and calling out for help; it genuinely distressed and unnerved me to see.

On Lincoln’s right was the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial. The statues were carved with fear in their eyes, their huge radios unable to connect with anyone for assistance, running with no end in sight.

I will admit, the latter half of the trip felt a lot more somber, but I think I speak for everyone when I say how emotional and impactful it was. There is nothing I would have changed about this trip though. Just like our veterans, for the rest of our lives, every action – every sacrifice – we make should be for our country, to give it the best future.

Seeing these memorials and monuments really put this idea into perspective.

There are many people I want to thank for making this trip possible. SMSG Mac McCormack, for being a guardian who was funny and full of heart-warming stories, and the other veterans for all they’ve done. Thanks to those officials who give their time for Collier County Honor Flight; specifically CW3 Rutizer, one of my JROTC instructors.

Thank you all of opening this window of opportunity for me! It was an experience I will never forget and I will cherish every second!

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