A Once in a Lifetime Flight

Three losses in a row. The longest losing streak in Portland Thorns history. Our worst performance of the season. Not easy information to swallow as our team headed to the DC airport to catch our flight home. Travel days are never a highlight, but they are especially daunting following a defeat. With such an awesome Portland fan base, a loss feels not only like we’re letting ourselves down, but our city as well.

It’s a feeling that makes me want to completely erase the weekend from my memory and focus on the road ahead.

    When we arrived at our gate, I was thinking about what I’d give to own a time machine that could bypass these next 8 hours of travel, tuck me gently into my bed, and kiss me goodnight on the cheek.

    As I was daydreaming, the flight attendant chimed in over the intercom, “Passengers traveling to Portland, we have a very special treat for you today.  You are on an Honor flight with World War II Veterans. How about we give them a round of applause!”

I’d never heard of an Honor Flight, but after asking around, I discovered that it is a flight intended to transport veterans to honor and reflect at their memorial. On this particular flight, we were in the presence of over 20 World War II survivors.

We boarded the flight and I selfishly wished that I’d get to sit next to them and ask about their experience. Instead, I was stationed next to a very sweet couple who recently renovated their Mt Hood cabin. They showed a 22 picture slideshow of their newest renditions. The wife was particularly jazzed about her new book room. They were very warm-hearted (and even warmer-bodied, to the point that I really wanted to offer them some of my deodorant, but I decided against it), but it’s not every day you’re on a plane full of World War II veterans.

We touched down in Portland, and the captain of the aircraft initiated one more applause for the soldiers. The veterans stayed on the plane, while the rest of the passengers exited. We walked through the tunnel into the gate and were saluted by a handful of military officers, cops, and lieutenants whom were hoisting American flags. Passing-by Portland travelers bordered the gate and waited to greet the veterans. Our team joined the crowd to pay our proper respects.

As we were waiting, several of my teammates were in tears form this moving moment. We all knew how much these men had sacrificed for us. Because of them, we are able to live freely and pursue our passions. Mana Shim especially was an emotional mess, as she got the opportunity to speak with one of the veterans on the flight.

The veteran, George, told Mana that his sister had surprised him and signed him up for the Honor Flight. He had no idea that there was a memorial for him in DC. He remarked that he is simply grateful to have come out alive, unlike millions of his other soldiers. George never talked about the war much after it ended. To him, it was simply his job. He did what he was told to do. George expressed how appreciative he is that there is a memorial in DC to honor our history and remember where we came from.

After hearing this story, I realized that my “forget it happened” approach to our loss was fatally flawed. It’s impossible to completely forget about a loss and move onto the next one. We can’t just erase history. The past happened for a reason, and it served a purpose. Throughout the war, thousands of soldiers lost their lives battling for our country. These massive losses didn’t stop the soldiers from fighting, but rather willed them to keep going.  A soccer game is insignificant in comparison, but each loss serves a purpose. It shouldn’t be dwelled upon, but it needs to be recognized. It’s a source from which we can find motivation and use to gain a deeper appreciation of future victories.

The veterans entered the gateway and we applauded them one by one as they were escorted to their wheelchairs.

We asked one of the coordinators if they’d be willing to take a picture with us. She said that they’d love that and asked if we could sing God Bless America to them afterwards.

 Along with being a professional surfer, being a Beyonce-esque singer is in my top three dream jobs. What better time to spark this career than in the middle of the airport, with one of our Nation’s greatest melodies?  We actually have some really great singers on our team, myself not being one of them. Regardless of our voices, we all wanted to honor our veterans.

 We followed the group towards baggage claim and then assembled next to them to snap some photos. During this time, I was able to meet, talk to,  and thank several of the servicemen. Every time I shook their hand, they thanked me as if were opposite day.

Emily Menges had a particularly meaningful conversation with one of the men who sternly said to her, “We did the best we could, now it’s up to you.”

Those are some bold words. But it’s true. There will always be more battles that need to be won. Three losses doesn’t mean that we have failed. It’s all a part of the never-ending process of bettering ourselves and those around us. It’s important to be appreciative of all we have gained from the past. We must continue fighting, growing, and improving.

After the last picture was taken, Rachel Van Hollebeke, cued the team in and we all sang “God Bless America” in unison. I not-so-strategically placed myself in the front of the group. Of course, I had the voice of an angel, but I was a bit rusty on remembering the words.

At that moment though, it didn’t matter. I looked over at the veterans and every single one of them had their hand placed on their heart and was singing along with us. Half my team was crying. The past and present were irrelevant. In that moment, we had won.