So many things have happened in the last few years with Operation Meatball. Even when we try and keep tight records on all that goes on, some things still slip through the cracks. However, there is one afternoon that will always be as clear as the day it happened: September 23, 2014. The date's easy to remember... it was the day before my 18th birthday, but even more significantly, it was our very first experience greeting Honor Flights at the WW2 Memorial. Our very first flight was Greater Peoria Honor Flight (GPHF). And our very first veteran was Bob Lake.
Immediately following GPHF's program at the Memorial, we met Mr. Lake. He told us that he had turned 18 the day the Japanese surrendered, August 14, 1945. What a day!! For his trip to DC, he had brought with him a newspaper clipping of a cousin who died overseas during the Korea War.
When we left him at the memorial, we thought that was goodbye. But after the trip, we sent him a few photos and a note through the GPHF headquarters, and shortly after we were surprised (and pleased as punch!) to receive a card from him. Over the next three years, we exchanged letters, keeping up on each others lives. A year after our meeting, his beautiful wife, Jeanette passed away just shy of their 65th anniversary. But he kept going, and we were happy to see his face periodically in the Honor Flight Welcome Home photos.
With all this background, coming to Peoria meant a visit with Mr. Lake was a must! And such a delightful visit it was. In today's world of social media: email over letters, texting over phone calls, coffee dates over house calls, it's a pretty special thing to be brought into someone's home. It's personal.
For several hours, we poured over pictures as Mr. Lake told us stories of growing up in Kansas during the Great Depression, followed by the lesser known (but still infamous) Dust Bowl or "The Dirty Thirties." A period in the mid-1930s when the ever-growing, over-worked farmland of the mid-west revolted and covered several states in literal Dust Storms. And there was no escaping. Mr. Lake described several times when he and his brothers were surrounded by the choking dust winds without any warning. A nearby barn saved them, but it was miserable.
After these storms passed, everything in sight would be covered in dry dust. The poorly insulated houses were no exception. Tables, chairs, beds, food, rugs, everything was covered. The severity and destruction of these storms eventually caused Mr. Lake's father to take his family and move back to Illinois. But not before collecting a bottle of this ruinous dust.
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I couldn't have been happier to see Mr. Lake again after these last few years. It was like our whole experience with Honor Flight came full circle. Our first experience with Honor Flight, a brief meeting at the WW2 Memorial, long-distance friends, and finally back together. We are so looking forward to many more years of happy friendship with this wonderful man.