The Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, VA is an emotionally moving statue, which is impressive considering its massive size- the figures alone are 32-feet high. But it’s even more touching if you happen to be there when veterans arrive courtesy of Honor Flight. I was lucky enough to experience that this weekend.

This amazing program flies US vets from around the country to visit Washington and the memorials dedicated to the wars they fought. Many of these vets are in their 80s and 90s. I get choked up every single time I’m at a memorial and see these men and women experiencing the respect of their country. It’s not only the statues and quotes, it’s the other visitors- from kids to seniors- who stop and thank them for their service, shake their hands, salute them, and connect for a moment with the strong, proud serviceman or woman that still exists inside an often elderly exterior.

I’m not sure if it’s the kindness and gratitude of strangers or the reminder that we are quickly losing the human element, the humanity, of these important markers of American history that I find the most emotionally gripping. But I feel lucky to witness and participate in these exchanges.

A few photos from the Memorial and of an Honor Flight with vets from Rochester, NY:

While the Memorial depicts Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman raising the American flag after the eponymous World War II battle in the Pacific, it honors all Marines who have given their lives throughout US history.

More info on Honor Flights: