I have been extremely fortunate during the past year to become involved in Honor Flight and assisting our World War II heroes visit their memorial in Washington, D.C. There are 94 hubs located throughout the United States and their mission is to provide a way for those surviving veterans to see their memorial erected in 2004. The hub I have been working with is Central Prairie Honor Flight located in Great Bend, Kansas.
Each hub, through the efforts of volunteers, works at fund raising which provides the money to cover the expense of transporting WWII vets on an all expense paid trip. Due to the rural nature of Kansas, this consists of one day getting to an airport and arriving in the DC area, one day touring Washington, and then a day to return home. The tour includes a morning visit to the WWII Memorial, a walking tour of the Korean Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Viet Nam Wall. Then, following lunch, we have a short visit to either the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum or the Holocaust Museum. After a bus tour of the Navy Memorial and Air Force Memorial, we spend a short time at the Iwo Jima Memorial. We then enter Arlington National Cemetery and observe the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Finally, we return around sunset for a memorial service at the WWII Memorial to remember those who were unable to travel or are deceased.
Individuals designated as guardians travel with the veterans to assist with the rigors of travel and help with numerous wheelchairs. Guardians, often family members, pay their own expenses for the trip. It usually works out that there are around 2 veterans for each guardian.
In June of 2009, I volunteered to travel as a guardian with a long time friend who had also worked for me at the Turon Mill & Elevator. He had served in the Army Air Corp as a pilot. To see the reaction of these heroes from the “Greatest Generation” and to get to listen to not only their stories, but to hear their deep appreciation for the Honor Flight organization providing them this opportunity was a experience unlike any other in my life. There were 113 veterans and guardians with my first group. Sadly, my friend passed away 2 months later.
These men and women, who, when our country needed them the most, simply went and did what was necessary to preserve our freedoms and way of life. There were approximately 400,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice. There were another 15.5 million who left their homes and families to defeat the enemy and returned. Today there are approximately 1.8 million surviving veterans. However, with the youngest being about 82 years old, we are losing these heroes at the rate of 1,400 per DAY!
Growing up in Colby, I guess I was always aware of WWII vets. My dad, Eldon, served in the Army helping build the Ledo Burma Road in India. In his entire life (92 years), he never again traveled outside of the United States. In fact, he didn’t even really like leaving Kansas. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize what a fantastic service these men and women did for our country. Men like Dale Hawk, Leigh Shirley, Bob Gordon, Dale Devers, Hubert Cooper and many others left home and did their duty. No jet airplanes to get overseas, no cell phones to check with family every day, no computers to email and share photos with family, limited medical facilities, nominal clothing and equipment. And then what did they do? They simply came home, went back to work, raised their families, and proceeded to build the greatest nation on the face of the earth.
I was honored to be asked to lead another group of veterans to Washington in October. My wife, Connie, also accompanied me while we escorted two groups of 170 each during early October. And then, through the generosity of Southwest Airlines, we were able to lead another group of 55 in early November.
We have agreed to lead at least a couple more tours during 2010. The goal is getting as many of our WWII veterans as possible to see their Memorial. Then, when that task is finished, Honor Flight will begin the same process for Korean War veterans and then Viet Nam veterans. In fact, any terminal veteran is eligible to apply and is given priority.
My career as owner and operator of the Turon Mill & Elevator for thirty plus years was very satisfying and rewarding. Additionally for 19 years, we owned the Turon Mini Mart. While in agribusiness, I served as a director and president of the Kansas Fertilizer & Chemical Association. In our small community of Turon, I have served many years as a city councilman and as a volunteer fireman. We have been active in our church and I am an elder of our church board. Additionally I have served on the board of directors of our local telephone company for 18 years and been president of that association for the past 8-9 years. These experiences have been rewarding and I feel extremely fortunate. Support from employees, friends, and especially family has been exceptional.
Now, with Honor Flight, I’m getting the additional honor and privilege to be in the position to repay my parent’s generation for their great sacrifice and service.