Harrison brothers have homecoming worth waiting for on Honor Flight
MT. PLEASANT (GTNS) – When the flight attendant called out names for mail call during the 41st Honor Flight from Quincy, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., there was more than one Harrison name called.
In fact, all five of the Harrison brothers – Richard, 80, Robert, 77, Ronald, 73, Russell, 70 and Roger, 64 – made the trip together.
The idea came from second oldest, Robert.
“I always wanted to go, but I didn’t want to go by myself,” admitted youngest Roger. “And then last summer Robert brought all the paperwork up and asked us to fill it out.”
And so, the five brothers filled out the paperwork and submitted it.
“Richard, he was reluctant to even go,” said Russell. “So we more or less …”
“Told him he had to go,” the brothers said at the same time with a wry chuckle.
Richard had been stationed in Libya, Africa, and worked as an encryptor in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict.
“He never talks a whole lot about it,” said Russell of his brother’s time in the military. “But I heard ... he was glad he did go.”
The five brothers have always been close. Their father worked construction and the family moved around a lot. “Wherever the job took him, that’s where we ended up,” said Russell. “When I was growing up, I went to 12 different schools.”
But despite the constant moving, the brothers had each other.
“We get together twice a year, the brothers and sisters do,” said Roger. “We call it a sibling dinner, and it’s strictly for us.”
It was at their sibling dinner that Robert brought up the idea, and all the paperwork, for the honor flight.
The brothers and their guardians, for Roger and Russell it was their daughters, left early on April 6, but returning home was a little difficult as poor weather kept them delayed. The weather, however, didn’t dampen their excitement or enjoyment.
“It rained all day,” said Russell. “The only time it stopped was at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For 45 minutes the sun came out, it quit raining and they did the changing of the guards.”
“It was beautiful,” added Roger.
“When it was over, we got back on the bus and it started raining again. We were wet all day long, but it didn’t really matter,” said Russell.
Both brothers had been to D.C. and the monuments before, but the feeling never gets old.
“Of all the monuments and all the things you see there’s two places that stand out to me, and that’s the [Vietnam Veterans Memorial] Wall and Arlington [National Cemetery],” said Roger. “Those two places are the most emotional for me.”
While Richard served in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict, his brothers all served in various stages of the Vietnam War.
Robert, Ronald and Roger all joined the Navy, while Russell served in the Army.
“I knew I was going to get drafted,” said Roger. “I saw what [happened] to Russell and there ain’t no way I was going to do that, I was going to have a little bit of say, so I enlisted [in the Navy].”
For Russell and Roger, being veterans of the Vietnam War has not been easy.
“Vietnam was … controversial,” Russell says with a long sigh. “That’s when you had draft dodgers and protesters.”
“They called you baby killers and they spat on you at airports,” Roger said with a far-off look in his eyes.
Their reception in D.C. earlier this month could not have been more different.
“When we got into the airport, where was that? Baltimore?” Russell asked his brother. “At Baltimore, the whole airport …”
Both Russell and Roger grew quiet as they composed themselves.
“It was a standing ovation,” Roger finally said.
“It was the only homecoming I ever had,” said Russell.
The same happened when they flew out of Reagan International Airport that evening.
“They announced us to start boarding and everybody in that area gave us a standing ovation. It was quite a stark contrast from 40 years ago,” Roger said with a catch in his voice.
Russell said the entire flight was treated like royalty. Driving through D.C., they had a police escort. “There was three or four lanes of traffic bumper to bumper and we was on this big bus and that motorcycle [policeman] went right down the middle [of the road] and he was shoving everybody off the side. He was beating on windows [to tell drivers] to get over,” recounted Russell.
On the Honor Flight, veterans are allowed to bring a guardian, who is not a spouse, with them. So besides getting to share the experience with their siblings, the Harrison brothers also had the opportunity to share it with their children, nieces and nephews.
“You got two different experiences here,” said Roger. “You’ve got the experience between the five brothers, and then you have the five separate experiences with their kids. It was very different, but it’s very special.”
“My daughter was just floored,” said Russell. “... I think it was touching for her. Especially because she went with her dad.”
The Harrison brothers were very grateful for the chance to share the experience together, and they hope other veterans take advantage of the Honor Flight.
“I hope other veterans would take the initiative to take this trip. It’s very humbling,” said Roger.
“If you have a chance to go, do it. It’s still touching emotionally whenever you go. It doesn’t matter how many times you go. You get there and have the same feelings all over again,” added Russell.