I am a volunteer with the Honor Flight Network headquartered in Springfield, Ohio, whose current mission is to transport America’s World War II veterans and any veteran with a terminal disease (under the Their Last Chance (TLC) Program) to Washington, D.C., to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifice. The Honor Flight Program is a tribute to our World War II veterans for all the sacrifices they have endured so that we may live free.
Each World War II veteran travels with a guardian, an escort one generation younger to assist in-flight and at the memorials. I have had the honor and privilege of being a guardian for World War II veterans from western Washington under the Southwest Lone Eagle Program, for veterans who do not live within a 120-mile radius of an Honor Flight regional hub city.
Honor Flight Trip Day One
Veterans and their guardians fly on a commercial Southwest Airlines flight to Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport and stay at the BWI Hilton (a sponsoring partner). Southwest Airlines has been the official carrier of the Honor Flight Network since 2008 and provides free tickets to Honor Flight veterans.
Honor Flight Trip Day Two
Participants ride from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., in a deluxe motor coach with a motorcycle escort and visit the following memorials:
- World War II Memorial
- Lincoln Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- Vietnam Wall War Memorial
- Navy Memorial
- Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima Statue)
- Air Force Memorial
- Arlington National Cemetery to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial
The reception the World War II veterans receive at the World War II Memorial is incredible. People from middle school students to senior citizens and current Armed Forces members from privates to generals and former Senator Bob (World War II, 10th Mountain Division veteran) and Elizabeth Dole greet them, thank them, and ask to pose with them for pictures. It is an amazing experience for both the World War II veteran and guardian.
Many of our World War II veterans are also Korean War veterans, and a few are also Vietnam War veterans. On my trips, we were able to take pencil rubbings at the Vietnam Wall of the names of those we knew who were killed in action. We also encountered many well-wishers at the other memorials.
At the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, in addition to seeing the Changing of the Guard and Wreath Laying Ceremony, we had an off-duty tomb guard spend time talking and answering questions with the World War II veterans and guardians. One significant thing I’ve learned during this time is the reason the tomb guards do not wear any rank on their guard uniforms. It is because no one outranks the Unknown. This is a place of respect for “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.”
Honor Flight Trip Day Three
What Veterans Have to Say
When you get these guys together, they open up to each other. You learn a lot of history when you listen to them. They swap stories and kid each other, and the inter-service rivalries live on even now. They are effusive with their gratitude, and every person seems to be changed by the experience. Some of the things I’ve heard veterans say about this experience:
“I feel two inches taller and 40 years younger.”
“Aside from my wedding day, this has been the best day of my life.”
“This was some kind of wonderful.”
How It’s All Possible
A great group of volunteers, from active and retired military to veterans who live in the Washington, D.C., area, assist us during the Honor Flight Tour of the memorials. A wonderful volunteer Honor Flight Ground Crew also assists us at the BWI Airport and Hotel.
For more information on the Honor Flight Programs, veteran and guardian applications, and if you would like to make a donation, please go to the Honor Flight Network website www.honorflight.org.
A special thank you to people from the Honor Flight Network in Ohio:
- Earl Morse, Air Force Captain (Ret) and Founder of the Honor Flight Network
- James McLaughlin, Chairman of the Board and Air Force Veteran, who also organizes and leads the LE and TLC Honor Flight Tours
- Diane Gresse, Executive Director
- Jane Julian, Bookkeeper