CEDAR RAPIDS — As Tricia Weber reads aloud the certificate of appreciation given to her fourth-grade class, she tears up and stumbles over the words.
Muted laughs in the back of the classroom are followed by a student’s admonishment that "It’s not funny."
Indeed, the certificate is from Eastern Iowa Honor Flight, thanking the Grant Wood Elementary students for writing thank-you letters to veterans of World War II.
"It gets real quiet as they open them," says George Rickey of Iowa City, media chairman of the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight. "They say, ‘Wow. I don’t even know this person and they’re saying thank you.’"
These veterans, too, men and women hardened by war, can get tears in their eyes.
The honor flight has been an emotional experience since it began. In Eastern Iowa that was 2009, which means 700 veterans and counting have visited Washington D.C. war memorials on, as George calls it, "One last mission."
George, who is not a veteran, was overcome by emotion as he waited for a flight from the Quad Cities airport. The crowd rose and applauded veterans leaving on an honor flight. He signed up to help.
Tricia was overcome as she watched flag-waving citizens welcome an honor flight back to The Eastern Iowa Airport. So much so, in fact, that she took 26 students to the next reception.
"You guys all know that, when we went to the airport and welcomed the veterans home, I was crying," Tricia tells her class. "I was the biggest baby."
These children, 9 and 10 years old, have a lifetime ahead of them. They are thanking veterans 85 and older who don’t know how many more chances they’ll have for "One last mission."
So, Tricia and her class have embarked on a mission of their own. They want to raise $550 to send a World War II veteran on the April 30 honor flight.
"I hope, even as you leave my class, that you continue to think about the guys who gave their lives for us," she says.
"The future," George adds, "owes a great debt to the past."
"What does that mean?" one girl asks.
"It means," he replies, "as you grow up, you can be who you want to be."
The students, who have studied WW II — they knew all about the switching of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — became interested in the honor flight when Anders Bergstrom told classmates about his late grandfather’s service. Tricia took it from there, inviting George and others to inspire her class.
"When a veteran came home from World War II," George says. "most of the time he’d just get off the bus, go home, go to work. He didn’t get a big parade or anything like that."Not until now.