Robin Bartlett

Honor Flights

I made a presentation on Veterans Day event at St. John’s University in Queens, NY. While there I had the good fortune to talk with two Korean War vets who had recently participated in the Honor Flight program. Both expressed great enthusiasm.

One of the men talked about his experience in detail. With tears in his eyes, he described how he and his veteran guardian had been taken to Westchester Airport, escorted by an honor guard of more than 50 motorcycles, police cars with lights flashing and sirens blasting together with other veteran sponsors. Upon arrival at the airport, he was met by a company of West Point cadets all standing at attention and saluting him as he walked past. Two fire trucks stood by with hoses blasting water over the airplane that flew him to Washington D.C.

Upon arrival at Reagan National Airport, he was met by thunderous applause from a throng of well-wishers clapping, saluting, and acknowledging his status as an Honor Flight veteran. He and his escort then boarded a bus and were taken to the WWII, the Vietnam, the Korean, and the Marine Memorials. Lunch was provided and he was returned to the airport at the end of the day for the flight back to Westchester.

The Honor Flight Network

If you’re familiar with Honor Flights, then you know what a fabulous organization it is. The Honor Flight mission celebrates America’s veterans by inviting them to share in a day of honor and recognition and view our nation’s memorials. The vision of the program is to give veterans the honor, gratitude, and community support they have earned and deserve. The Honor Flight Network continues to focus efforts on serving WWII and Korean War vets, but as Vietnam vets start to walk in the boots of these heroes, the program is gradually transitioning to Vietnam vets. Terminally ill and disabled veterans serving during any era always have first priority.

The Honor Flight Network is comprised of 128 independent hubs throughout the country working together to promote their mission. Participation in an Honor Flight trip gives veterans the opportunity to share in this momentous occasion with other comrades. It is an opportunity for them to remember friends and comrades who have been lost and share their stories and experiences with other veterans. All honored veterans travel at no cost.

The Honor Flight Network was the brainchild of Jeff Miller and Earl Morse and was established in 2005. Originally, the program was focused on honoring WWII veterans, but has since been expanded to include Korean and Vietnam war veterans. Since inception, the Honor Flight Network has taken more than 245,000 veterans to Washington D.C. And today, the organization is dedicated to carrying out the Honor Flight mission serving more than 22,000 veterans each year. To watch emotional videos about WWII veterans visiting their memorial as part of the Honor Flight network, click on this link:

https://www.honorflight.org/about-us.html

Earl Morse is an Air Force veteran who came up with the idea of Honor Flight more than eighteen years ago. My passion for veterans started with my father and my uncle. My father is a Korean War and a Vietnam veteran, and my uncle is a Vietnam veteran. He was a helicopter pilot shot down twice in Vietnam, so finally in May of 2004 when they dedicated the World War II Memorial, I was working at a VA clinic in Springfield, Ohio and I had about 300 of my patients who were World War II veterans and had waited 60 years to have a memorial.

From the beginning, Morse wanted to make sure that veterans did not pay a penny for the trip, and he wanted disabled vets to have guardians who would take care of them for the entire trip. His military background as a flight medic flying air medical evacuation all around the world helped him formulate the concept. Morse’s vision was for a program where 80 and 90-year-olds were put on an airplane and flown across the United States. As he had done this professionally for years, he knew all about flying combat wounded and ill veterans and active-duty personnel. He knew it was possible and he knew they deserved it.

Morse and Miller said starting the Honor Flight Network has been an amazing journey and every trip comes with a new experience. They have found that admiration for veterans runs deep in the American culture, and hundreds of people everywhere feel the same way. It’s exhilarating when the veterans get off the plane in Washington and met by hundreds of people delivering applause and congratulations. These veterans will take you aside and say, “I had no idea so many people cared about what we have done.”

Morse and Miller believe they have brought almost all the World War II veterans on Honor Flight who are able to go. Now the focus of the network is turned toward Korean and Vietnam War veterans. Honor Flight participants or persons with questions about the program can contact their local Honor flight hub at: https://www.honorflight.org/map.html

I spoke with a college classmate who has participated as a volunteer and sponsor in many Honor Flights. He told me that many Vietnam veterans he meets when their Honor Flights arrive in Washington DC tell him: “’Nobody understood us or appreciated what we did.’ And that is why Welcome Home is so much more meaningful to say to them than thank you for your service.” – LTC. James Carson, USAR (Ret.) and Vietnam Veteran.

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