AN ESSAY FOR THE DAY: A Gathering of Heroes

It was about as poignant a moment as one could imagine.

The National World War II Memorial. On the National Mall. On the Saturday before this Memorial Day weekend in 2011.

The site is perfectly framed at one end by the Lincoln Memorial. At the other, it’s the Washington Monument.

It was another Honors Flight Weekend. Hundreds upon hundreds of World War II veterans, many in wheelchairs, are streaming into the memorial.

Bus after bus arrives from the airport with a police escort. Greater Wheeling is represented well. Many know it will be their last deployment.

And greeting just about every one of them on this pristine mid-spring day is Bob Dole in an impeccable dress shirt as crisp as it is white.

The former U.S. senator of Kansas — erstwhile vice-presidential and presidential candidate and, of course, decorated and badly injured World War II veteran — stands tall and displays his characteristic wit and personal touch with each vet. A stool later is brought for him as the vets keep pouring in.

Standing just behind Dole and off to his right, this observer hears the stories and the mutual words of encouragement. The smiles are as bright as the sun this day. The affection and bond are unparalleled among these bands of brothers.

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But, too, one can almost smell the salt of the tears.

Not far away, more veterans are paying their respects to their commander in chief at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

And soon, throngs of kids on their spring school trips are surrounding them.

“Can I have my picture taken with a hero?” asks one girl, not even in her teens, unprompted.

Soon, lots of heroes are having lots of pictures taken with a generation born such a short time ago.

You can see the gratitude in the eyes of the vets that children so young actually understand. They’ve been taught well. They’ve learned well. “There is hope for America,” you can almost hear these veterans say.

It is the object lesson of all object lessons for the rest of us as we pause in solemn remembrance this Memorial Day weekend.

God forbid that we ever forget.

Colin McNickle, the retired editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, now is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. He began his journalism career at local newspapers and radio stations. A 1976 graduate of Martins Ferry High School, he grew up in Colerain.