A gathering of heroes

A gathering of heroes

WASHINGTON

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 the Memorial Day weekend of 2011.

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

It’s 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. 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 one.

As the sun grows hotter, a stool is brought for Dole as the vets keep pouring in.

Standing just behind him and off to his right, this observer hears the stories and the mutual words of encouragement. No one’s tale is cut short. The smiles are as bright as the sun this day. The affection and bond are unparalleled among these bands of brothers.

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 understand. They’ve been taught well. They’ve learned well.

“There is hope for America,” you can almost hear these vets 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.