Giving special thanks for Honor Flight

As we give our thanks today, each of us is thinking about something different for which we’re truly thankful. Of course we’re all happy to be sitting at bountiful tables, sharing good food with friends and family. But if we went around the table and asked each person to share a story of thanks for something that happened in the past year — wouldn’t that be an interesting, maybe uplifting, experience? Well: Here’s my holiday dinner tale…
Do you know about Honor Flight? I was introduced to it while waiting for a plane change at the St. Louis airport. A woman came by to ask everyone there if we would mind walking to another nearby gate for a few special moments: “An Honor Flight is about to deplane,” she said, “and we’d like a crowd for a special welcome.” Not knowing what this was about, I got up and joined the double lineup forming two gates away.
When the passengers began to exit, I understood. All were World War II veterans, wearing special new caps identifying them as such, and as Honor Flight vets as well. Most were on their feet, some with canes and walkers for assistance; some were even in wheelchairs. Each was accompanied by a volunteer who had been with his or her assigned vet for a two-day trip to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial of their war — and all the other wars — on the National Mall. They were smiling and waving flags; all of us on our literal sidelines cheered and waved back.
It was an unforgettable moment, and I made it my business soon afterward to learn more about Honor Flights. They’re offered across the country, to give as many of these vets as possible (they’re now dying at the rate of more than a thousand every day!) a chance to see how their service has been officially recognized in our nation’s capital.
I had seven uncles who served in World War II. All survived that conflict, but only one has survived in life up to this point. When I asked him if he’d like to go on an Honor Flight, he said he had means of his own; he’d donate some money so that another vet could go. But he got into his own car and drove from Pittsburgh to D.C. to join with a group at the Memorial. And then I thought of someone else…
My late husband was a Korean vet, never Honor Flight eligible. But this year, I thought to contact his brother-in-law, a widower living in a senior residence in San Diego, who was. When I called him to ask if he’d been on one, he not only hadn’t; he actually knew nothing about the program! So I contacted his city’s Honor Flight coordinator, who sent someone to meet with him to collect information verifying eligibility, and off he went! And so, as it worked out, did two of his poker buddies who lived in the same facility, both eligible and able to go on the same flight!
Honor Flight is totally free for eligible vets. Volunteers work tirelessly to identify vets and raise funds to secure planes, hotels, ground transportation, meals, and other volunteers as one-to-one caretakers. The experience is brief: an early Friday a.m. departure, return late afternoon the following Sunday, with a packed schedule of site visitations in between. But for many, it’s the experience of a lifetime.
Because I made the contact that gave someone dear, and his friends, this opportunity, I’ve added the program to my end-of-year giving list. Alone, I can’t cover full cost for even one vet, but I can help. And I’m hoping others will learn about this incredible program and give something to keep it flying until the last World War II vet has left us. Local contact:
I knew World War II as a child. That’s why I give special thanks for Honor Flight today!

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