Honor Flight Network
America's veterans visit Washington, D.C. memorials at no cost
Honor Flight Network (www.honorflight.org) is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices.
Every weekend and often mid-week, April thru mid-November, Honor Flight transports these heroes to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorials.
Top priority is given to the senior and terminally-ill veterans. Honor Flight covers the total cost of airfare and transportation for the veterans, who are accompanied by "guardians" who pay their own way and make sure that the veterans are able to get around safely from their home destination, around D.C., and back again.
Most have to get up at 3 a.m. to catch their flights and arrive in D.C. in the morning; they spend the day at the WWII, Vietnam, Korean, Iwo Jima memorials and Arlington Cemetery. They then return to Reagan, Dulles and BWI to catch evening flights out.
STAND UP AND CHEER
My official volunteer t-shirt has this Will Rogers quote: "We can't all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by."
My experience with Honor Flight began this past spring as a one-Saturday-a-month commitment in a tent that is set up at the WWII Memorial, where we serve box lunches to some of the groups.
I also spend time at the memorial, taking their pictures, showing them their state columns, and just visiting with them and listening to their stories.
I spend a few weekends with other volunteers as a greeter/send-off at Reagan National Airport, where we encourage crowds of waiting passengers to join us in cheering and applauding the veterans as they came off of their planes, and we visit with them about their day and say goodbye to them as they board their departing flights.
Many of them give me a hug and say, "This was the BEST day of my life." Some of them start to cry as they walk past the cheering crowds at the airport, and say, "I thought people had forgotten about us," or "I never dreamed that I would ever see this Memorial."
They never stop thanking us, but we cannot do enough for them, and it is an honor and a privilege to do everything we can.
More than 1,000 WWII veterans die each day-we are quickly losing this "greatest generation."
HONORING THEIR SERVICE
State and regional hubs organize the flights, and USAir, AirTran and Northwest are the major carriers.
It's always special to meet veterans from beet-growing areas--Ft. Collins/ Greeley (Denver), Fargo/Grand Forks (GF/Bismarck), Bay City/Saginaw (Detroit/Ann Arbor), Minnesota (St. Cloud/Minneapolis/Rochester), Torrington (Cheyenne), and N. California,; and from my home area in Ohio (Cleveland/Columbus/Akron-Canton).
Some of these hubs have links and contact information on the Honor Flight website, and tour schedules are also posted.
When a flight of vets from Minnesota was coming to D.C. in early October, Minn-Dak, Southern Minn. and the ASGA made contributions to pay for the lunch tent.
After lunch, a huge cheer arose when I proudly announced that the sugarbeet growers from Minnesota had sponsored the tent in honor of their service.
As the flights end for the year and before they begin again in April, I will be organizing some D.C. fundraisers for our "Tent Fund."
I'm looking forward to seeing these amazing guys again in the Spring-I think I'll really miss them this winter!
I can think of no better way to spend a few Saturdays every month, and no better group to honor.
There were 278 Honor Flights during 2009 -- 17,832 vets and 8,704 guardians.