Honor Flight South Florida celebrated 45 World War II veterans on Saturday, May 31 with a trip to Washington, D.C. to view the war memorials built to recognize them and culminated the trip with a ceremonial homecoming salute to the men who served America so well. A relatively new hub in Honor Flight’s 138 hubs nationwide, Honor Flight South Florida serves veterans in Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties, providing transportation, companionship and assistance to veterans of World War II to travel to the nation’s capital to visit the war memorials and other sites erected in their honor and memory.
Ryan Paton, director of operations for Honor Flight South Florida, said “To be on an airplane with World War II veterans, some who have served on D-Day and jumped out of planes, and to take them to see the memorials built for them is a moving experience.”
Time is of the essence
As the last of the Greatest Generation approach their final curtain call, we are witnesses to a tremendous loss as we embrace a precious opportunity. One World War II veteran passes away every 90 seconds. They take their stories, history and enormous bravery with them. But many are among us still. There is no earthly way we can repay the gift of freedom, but we can thank them. These men and women sacrificed so much to preserve our freedom. Honor Flight of South Florida is blessed with a dedicated volunteer corps dedicated to honoring all American Veterans.
A dream became a reality
The Honor Flight Network program was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain. Morse wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for the past 27 years. After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Morse was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. In May of 2004, the World War II Memorial was finally completed and dedicated in Washington, D.C. and quickly became the topic of discussion among his World War II veteran patients. Most felt that eventually, somehow, they would make it to D.C., perhaps with a family member or friend. But as time went on reality settled in; it was clear to most that it simply wasn’t financially or physically possible for them to make the journey. Most of these senior heroes were in their 80s and lacked the physical and mental wherewithal to complete a trip on their own. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time to complete the three-to-four-day trip to the nation’s capital.
A typical day in D.C.
A trip with Honor Flight South Florida will be a long and emotional day. Yet it will also be a day of exhilaration and renewal. Past Honor Flight participants have said that next to their wedding day and the births of their children, their Honor Flight is one of the top highlights of their lives.
The day starts early. The first groups arrive at Fort Lauderdale International Airport by 4:30 am. This early arrival allows time for checking in, meeting up with the veteran’s guardian for the day, processing through TSA security and enjoying a breakfast and entertainment at the gate before boarding the plane to Washington D.C. Once the flight arrives in D.C., the group immediately boards deluxe motor coaches and heads toward the first stop in our nation’s capital.
The highlight of every trip is the visit to the World War II Memorial where the veterans have ample time to soak in the symbolism and take in its beauty. They typically arrange for a group photo to be taken there. Besides a visit to the World War II Memorial, every trip includes visits to other memorials but the itineraries may vary. They typically include a stop at the Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. Past Honor Flights have included stops at the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, and even the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. They also try to include a short bus tour of Washington D.C. on every trip.
What is a guardian?
A Guardian serves as a trained, traveling companion to the Honor Flight participants, who are all aged in their upper 80’s and 90’s. Guardians are essential to the success of every Honor Flight. Without these patriotic volunteers they would not be able to carry out the dreams of so many veterans, enabling them to see the memorials built in their honor.
From the moment the veterans are in their hands until they return them to their loved ones in the evening, guardians treat these heroes as if they are family and ensure that every veteran has a safe, memorable and rewarding experience. The guardians play a significant role. Honor Flight South Florida, Inc. provides training to those individuals chosen to receive the honor of becoming a guardian. During this training they cover the obvious safety and health concerns and just as importantly how to ensure that each Veteran has the best trip he or she possibly can.
What can we do?
Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” These men laid down their lives daily for their nation. Not all of us can become as involved as the guardians. Let us honor our veterans in any way that we can, through friendship, companionship or visits to nursing homes or other locations where we may find them.
Honor Flight South Florida’s next flight will be on October 11. For information about how to participate in that flight as a veteran or guardian, contact honorflightsouthflorida.org.
Bob Woods is a Senior Project Manager at AECOM Technical Services, as well as a published Christian author and a writer for the Good News of South Florida. He can be reached at [email protected]