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Honor Flights Say 'Thank You' to Vets
Military.com | By Stephen Trimble | November 11, 2007Arvis Daniels left behind his wife, an infant son and a job hauling hay around the Appalachians in 1942 to enlist in the US Marine Corps.
Why the Marines?
"Because I wanted to fight," said Daniels, now 87.
The marines granted Daniels's wish, dispatching him in 1945 to the grisly fight on Okinawa. His job hauling supplies by truck to the front lines was cut short when he was wounded in the leg by shrapnel.
Sixty-two years after that war ended, Daniels, his younger brother Earl and about 700 of their fellow veterans from southern Ohio came to Washington, D.C., the weekend of Nov. 3 to enjoy an all-expenses paid trip to view the memorials dedicated to their service.
After arriving at the World War II memorial, each member of the group was personally welcomed by Bob Dole, former presidential candidate and long-time Kansas senator. With some, including Arvis, in wheelchairs, the group of vets toured each of the major war memorials – World War II, Iwo Jima, Korea and Vietnam. Several strangers stopped to thank them for their service.
"I've never had my picture taken so many times in my life," said Arvis.
After flying home to Dayton the same evening, the group was treated to a "welcome home" parade – an experience that Arvis, Earl and most of their fellow veterans missed returning from Europe or the Pacific theaters six decades ago.
The parade, the free airfare, the Washington tour and even the personal greeting by Dole was arranged by the Honor Flight Network, founded three years ago by Earl Morse, a pilot and former physician's assistant at an Ohio veterans clinic.
When the World War II memorial opened, Morse knew some of his clients at the clinic wanted to make the trip but were unable to for one reason or another. So he started formulating his own solution.
The first "honor flights" began in 2004 with a fleet of six, four-seat Cessna's rented from a local aircraft club. But the demand for seats quickly outpaced Morse's small operation.
"These gentleman are in their 80s and 90s and they are pushed aside [in society]," says Susan Barr, a volunteer spokeswoman for Honor Flight. "They are just forgotten that they were even part of this war."
In 2005, Morse expanded the operation to booking blocks of air fares on discount airlines, such as Southwest and AirTran. The organization also began to spread beyond Southern Ohio, with seven states joining the network in 2006 and another 10 signed up in 2007.
The group has arranged for more than 5,000 veterans to make the "honor flight" so far, and expects to at least quadruple that number in 2008 alone, she says.
"Aside from one handshake when they got home, [World War II veterans] have never been thanked, or they have not been thanked recently," Barr adds.
After shaking one veteran's hand on a recent trip, she said, "he held on to my hand longer, and said, 'You're the second person in my whole entire life who said thank you to me.'"
For Arvis and Earl, the trip also allowed for a mini-family reunion – with me. Arvis is my grandfather, and Earl is my great-uncle.
Both of these men in their youth literally helped save the world from tyranny, enduring hardships and sacrifice simply beyond anything I have experienced.
They are also lucky. Both are physically able to make such a trip. My other grandfather, Charles Trimble, flew C-47 Gooney Birds in 1944 over Normandy during Operation Overlord and over the Arnhem during Operation Market Garden.
While Grandpa's mind can recall every detail of that experience, his body is no longer sturdy enough to travel so far from home.
So, on Veterans Day, I say thank you to all the men and women who served their country in those desperate days, and I especially thank grandpa, granddad and Uncle Earl.
The trip was intended to honor each of them, but I am honored to have been a small part of it.
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