By LTC. Carolyn Abell US Army Retired | Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 at 12:00 pm
One of the best things about writing is getting to know my readers. I had the pleasure recently of talking with one of them — an 88-year old World War II Army Air Force veteran in Kentucky. As he related his experience in visiting the World War II, Korean War and Iwo Jima memorials in our nation’s capitol via the Honor Flight program, we realized it was something that others would love to know about.
Honor Flight began in 2005, started by a physician assistant and pilot named Earl Morse. A retired Air Force officer, Morse worked for the Veteran’s Administration, and found that many of his World War II patients had never been to the memorial erected in their honor. They hoped to go, but he knew that hope might never become reality. So he began flying them there at his own expense. As the flights became popular, and he witnessed first-hand the joy it brought to these older warriors, he soon recruited additional volunteer pilots, so that more veterans could share in this experience.
The program has grown by leaps and bounds, and now involves chartering commercial aircraft for the visits. From a starting figure of 137 veterans transported in 2005 to last year’s whopping 17,832, it is obvious that Earl Morse’s initiative has resulted in making dreams come true for these aging members of “the greatest generation.” Since the first Honor Flight in 2005, a total of 35,996 veterans have realized what seemed like a vague fantasy, perhaps — a distant hope that finally became a reality.
Many individuals and organizations, including Southwest Airlines, have made generous contributions to the program. Sponsored solely by donations, it grows each year, as more people realize that our courageous World War II veterans are passing on to their final place of rest at the rate of about 1000 daily. Those still living are in their 80′s and 90′s.
Although the program is open to all veterans, priority is given to those from World War II and to others who have terminal illnesses. Volunteer guardians accompany each flight, providing assistance with ground mobility and serving as escorts.
The event is often an emotional one, as the older generation realize the generosity of so many of our citizens in making this dream come true for them. Although guardians are expected to pay for their trip, the cost to the veteran is nothing.
According to my friend in Kentucky, whose son accompanied him as a guardian, they arrived at the local airport about 6:30 a.m. and were treated to breakfast before boarding the flight. Arriving in Washington, they were escorted in vans on a day of sight-seeing, which included rest stops and two more meals. Although the return was late and they were tired, it was one of the most gratifying trips he had ever been on. Besides several guardians to provide assistance to the elderly veterans, a nurse also accompanied the flight.
If you are a World War II veteran or know of one who would enjoy this trip, I recommend that you check the Honor Flight web site. The 2010 season will start in April, and a tentative schedule is posted. In addition to information about the program, the site provides application forms for veterans, guardians, and other volunteers, and also tells how to make a donation if you would like to help sponsor this very worthwhile effort. It is a wonderful way to honor our senior veterans who gave so much to secure freedom for all of us.
© Carolyn Abell, all rights reserved. You can read this and other articles by LTC Abell on her blog The Writings of LTC Carolyn Abell. If you wish to make a comment or ask a question, you can send her an email.
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