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Month: November 2016

The Honor Flight experience

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While most of us were collecting candy Halloween weekend, Bill Hires of New Limerick was busy collecting some amazing memories.

Hires, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, got his first-ever glimpse of the some of our nation’s greatest monuments thanks to the Honor Flight Network.

Hires, who served with the Army Air Corp from 1943 to 1945, worked as a radio technician both in the U.S. and in China. One of his main jobs included helping with the homing devices for planes, directing planes back and forth from the Chinese coast. By 1945, Bill had earned the rank of Corporal and was awarded seven different decorations and citations, including two Bronze Stars and a Good Conduct medal.

And now, thanks to the Honor Flights, Hires and other veterans like him, can visit Washington, D.C. and its monuments completely free of charge. The local hub, Honor Flight Maine, coordinated Hires’ trip.

“I had been to Washington before on business, but absolutely nothing like this,” explained Hires, who said the camaraderie on this trek was one-of-a-kind.

“We had a nurse with us who was 99-years-old,” he added.

Hires flew from Portland to Baltimore along with 45 other Maine veterans and then traveled to Annapolis where they were treated to dinner at their hotel.

“The hotel put on a dinner for us that was wonderful,” explained Hires. “And then, the next day we started the tour and that was just so well orchestrated. They had everything timed so perfectly.”

The veterans-turned-tourists managed to pack plenty of sight-seeing into their weekend. Hires said they saw Fort McHenry where Francis Scott Key penned his famous anthem, and they watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“And the most important monument [for me] was the World War II monument,” he says, while his eyes grew misty. “Oh, that was marvelous. It was just beautiful.”

“The second most impressive for me was the Lincoln Memorial,” he added. “I always had really wanted to see that.”

Seeing all these sights in one day is no small feat, especially for a fleet of aging veterans. But thanks to volunteers with Honor Flights, each veteran has their own personal guardian for the entire trip. Powered by personal donations, doctors and physician’s assistants also travel with the group.

“The guide that traveled with Bill was so nice,” said Diane Hires, Bill’s wife. “All along the way, he kept sending us pictures.”

Diane said she initially had some reservations about the Honor Flight process, wondering how it would work especially since Bill would need a wheelchair to navigate the sightseeing schedule. But the Honor Flight Maine volunteers were amazing, she said and gave Bill and all the other veterans 5-star treatment for their special trip.

“I just can’t say enough good about them,” added Diane.

As amazing as the trip itself was, the homecoming was extra special, too.

When the veterans landed back at the Portland airport on Oct. 30, hundreds of well-wishers, including Gov. LePage, were there to greet them.

“We were just amazed,” said Bill. “It was overwhelming to see that many people turn out.”

Diane agreed.

“There were kids walking up to him and giving him pictures they had drawn,” she explained. “It was just so warm and welcoming.”

Also part of the homecoming: one more mail call for each of the veterans.

And as part of the mail call, each veteran received a manila envelope stuffed full of cards and letters — some from friends and family, some from strangers — all expressing their appreciation for his service.

“I think it took him two days to read all the notes he got,” quips Diane.

Settled back at home with time to rest and reflect, Bill is quick to say how amazing his trip was and how grateful he is for the opportunity. But it isn’t the grand monuments that jump to mind first when asked what his favorite part of the trip was; the volunteers who came to the airport to make that homecoming special take first place.

“It was all good,” he recalls. “But nothing could match that homecoming.”

 

My Maine love story

Like so many great love stories, ours started completely by chance.

I wasn’t even dressed to impress that day — a baggy sweatshirt and a puffy vest snatched from the clearance rack at Gap — but for that matter, neither was she. In fact, she didn’t seem to care at all how she looked and I secretly admired that.

We’ve known each other for nearly 10 years now and I still feel a flutter when the car rounds the corner of our little dirt road, the small mountain peeks over the house and then, just beyond, the lake greets us with a sparkly, “Hello.”

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

 

The big search

Our story really started with a real estate sign, flopped over in the culvert.

Back then, my husband and I were kid-less and still carelessly wasting our free time. We spent hours that spring, bumping over back roads and gazing longingly at lake houses way beyond our price range.

We really wanted to live on a lake.

“Waterfront property is always a good investment,” quipped my financial advisor husband, ever practical and an expert at boiling decisions down to dollars and cents.

 

Finding some of our own magic

But, to me, a living on a lake was less about the bottom line and more about the magic — that special blend of my childhood memories, all polished to a shiny glow by time.img_2728

I never lived on a lake growing up, but I had a collection of grandparents with camps (another name for lake houses in Maine). Their camps, cedar shingle-covered cottages, held generations of splashy memories.

So, my husband and I, driven by dual purposes of nostalgia and good investment sense, followed that crumpled real estate sign with “Lakefront” stuck on top. No questions asked.

But it led to nothing.

Nothing but acres of gangly Alder trees, their roots snaking across the surface.

But that day, the sun happened to be shining and the smell of spring happened to be in the air. So, we ignored those bossy trees and were eventually greeted by granite boulders bigger than our tiny Civic. Together, we watched the sun shimmy across 80 acres of water.

At that moment, I knew. We were meant to be together.

 

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Getting to know each other

First impressions were right: we do have plenty in common. We both live in an off-the-beaten-path sort of way. Neither of us is famous or even slightly glam. We’re not afraid of a little dirt, but that’s where our common ground ends.

Our little piece of Maine lakefront isn’t showy, but she can impress without trying.

White birches cram the shoreline for a closer look: only monstrous slabs of granite hold them back. Every summer, a family of loons swoon over the quiet water. And then, of course, there are the beavers and their McMansions on the swampy end, threatening explorers with mighty tail slaps. A chorus of peepers and bullfrogs swap gossip every night and fog spends summer mornings polishing her surface to a glossy sheen.

Like all great friends, she gives you space. Space for screen porches and kayak rides at sunset. Space for kids and sled rides and doggies who like to bark at the moon. Space for bird houses and swing sets and flower gardens. She gave me space dig up all those flower gardens and make different flower gardens.

Space to take one step forward and then the next.

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