One veteran’s story: A nation served, a love shared and a union that lasted a lifetime

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ROCHESTER – On this Memorial Day, we learned of a story that we just had to share.  Honor Flight Rochester took 61 veterans on the flight of a lifetime in April.  We’ve heard the stories of so many on that flight, but there was one veteran with a story like none we’d heard before.  This veteran made the trip not only for herself, but also for someone who never had the chance to go.

It was an April homecoming that brought many veterans to tears.  The first mission of the year by honor flight Rochester took veterans on the trip of a lifetime, and they returned home to cheering friends and family. They had visited war memorials across the Washington, D.C. area, monuments that pay tribute to them, their service and sacrifice. 

On that trip were 61 veterans, 60 of whom were men.  There was only one female veteran, 74-year-old Joan Lewis. Joan served in the navy for a decade.  And as a young seaman apprentice in 1966, she met Marshall Lewis on a greyhound bus.  The chance meeting with that young army paratrooper would lead to a year of exchanging letters before Marshall was critically wounded in Vietnam. 

Marshall hadn’t seen Joan face to face since that meeting on the bus, but the injured veteran vowed that when he returned, he’d find that beautiful young seaman.  The two married in 1968, and there’s was a lifelong love of more than five decades.

Marshall desperately wanted to go on an honor flight seven years ago, but his old war injury left him unable to walk, and at the time the flight couldn’t accommodate him.

Marshall died in 2019, but his widow vowed to make the trip for him.  Joan carried his picture with her.  In one photograph taken on the trip, Joan is captured pushing a wheelchair that holds Marshall’s picture, their proud granddaughter thrilled to help honor the service of both her grandparents.

And as her granddaughter looked on, Joan was honored with a plaque at the Military Women’s Memorial.    Joan hoped it would send a message not only to her granddaughter, but also to all women who served – a message that conveyed that the thanks of a grateful nation are theirs as well.

And so on this Memorial Day, Joan finds peace in the knowledge that her lifelong love finally got the  flight he’d longed to have because she says his love of country and pride in service lives on in his wife and all those he touched.

Joan says the trip was so rewarding, and she hopes that other female veterans will be on the next honor flight.  Joan wrote a book about the love letters exchanged between her and that handsome young paratrooper she met on a greyhound bus.  A Soldier’s Pen Pal is a story about a love shared, a nation served, and union that lasted a lifetime.