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If you were watching the local news at all on Friday June 6, you saw news accounts of the Honor Flight leaving and returning. You probably didn’t think much about what was going on, but I’m going to try and explain how important these flights are.
The youngest of the veterans that served in World War Two are now about 85 years old – most are close to 90. A WWII veteran dies about every 2 minutes (over 500 a day). And with every death, we are one step closer to losing our connection with what has been proven over and over to be the “greatest generation.”
These men and women, like everyone who serves in the military, wrote a symbolic check made out to the United States of America. In the amount space, it said “up to and including my life”. Think about that! It is hard to imagine if you have not ever been in the military what that commitment is. About 1.2 million military members have died during wartime. Millions more left something behind in their service. Limbs are the most visible scars, but there are millions more suffering less apparent issues.
For the men on this Honor Flight, many who will die in the next few years, this trip was probably their last opportunity to see the World War Two Memorial. By the time this memorial opened 10 years ago, the vast majority of the veterans of World War Two were already dead. We owe these men and women so much, that it is our obligation to honor those who remain.
I was fortunate to be a part of this latest Honor Flight as a Guardian. To make it extra special, the veteran I escorted was my father. My father served in the military during World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam. To have the opportunity to help him, and so many others, visit the war memorials in Washington was a privilege and an honor.
More impressive was the reception these heroes received – every place they went. Conservatively, a thousand people shook my father’s hand and thanked him for his service; a hundred took their picture with him. For a quiet guy with little to say, it was a bit overwhelming. And yet, he and every other veteran deserve this praise and respect.
After a long tiring day of travel, the homecoming at the Louisville airport was humbling. As we walked down the concourse towards the airport lobby where you often see a couple people waiting for their loved ones, we began to hear voices. As we came into view of the lobby, the voices became cheers, and the cheers became a roar. Every veteran, as tired as they were, stood and walked a little bit straighter. Those in wheelchairs sat up as tall and proud as they could. I’d guess almost 1000 people were on hand, clapping, yelling, waving flags, shaking hands, taking pictures while a band and bagpipes played. They were young and old, soldiers, sailors, police officers, bikers, other veterans, and just citizens of the area who thought these men deserved something special.
As we passed through this crowd, again shaking hands, posing for photos, it was hard to tell if the veterans or the crowd was more excited. Some of the veterans had tears in their eyes. Some were outright crying. Many in the crowd were crying as they yelled and clapped. We found my wife in the crowd, as she yelled, tried to take pictures and wave an enormous American flag, all at the same time. Needless to say it was both an emotional and joyous occasion.
Now, it’s time for you to do your part to help the remaining WWII veterans in the Louisville area fulfill their destiny and see the monuments that were built to honor their service.
If you know a World War Two veteran, get them signed up for an honor flight. At least get their name on the list. There are limited openings, and the oldest and sickest are given priority.
Make a donation! It costs about $500 per veteran to make the trip. Consider funding a veteran. It that’s too much, get together with a few friends and fund a trip. Honor Flights accepts donations of any amount – except - they will not accept donations from WWII veterans. These flights honor them, and are provided free of charge.
Consider becoming a Guardian. You will never feel better about anything you have ever done. To see the quiet dignity of these veterans, and know you played a small part in helping them achieve a day they will never forget is priceless. However being a Guardian does have a price. You have to pay your own way, so it costs $500.00 to be a guardian (tax deductible) – probably the best money you will ever spend.
If your civic organization, company, or church, wants to be a major sponsor, $20,000 will take an entire contingent of veterans on their Honor Flight. While you will get some recognition, I hope that’s not why you would make the investment.
Oh, and they need wheelchairs. As you can imagine many of these veterans need a bit of help. If you have a good sturdy wheelchair in good condition, please consider donating it to Honor Flights. You will get a tax deduction. If you have one, let me know by e-mail – email@example.com– and I will make arrangements to pick it up and get it to the Honor Flight folks.
You can make donations, fill out an application for a veteran, or to be a guardian at their web site www.honorflightbluegrass.org, or by mail - Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter, PO Box 991364, Louisville KY 40269-1364 Phone 888-998-1941.
On the back of the guardian tee shirts Will Rogers is quoted “We can’t all be heroes, some of us get to stand on the curb and clap as they go by” Do more than clap, help give these men and women their due.
Mike DiGiuro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org