SPEAKER

 

Unfortunately, our guest speaker, Rick Hardina, was not able to attend as scheduled; however, Matt Rupert and guest Tom Webster have both volunteered with Honor Flight Arizona and were able to provide information about the planned topic.

 

From www.HonorFlightAZ.org: “Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation – and as a culturally diverse, free society. Now, with 1500 World War II veterans dying each day nationwide, our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out.”

 

Honor Flight was created in 2005, after the completion of the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. The goal of Honor Flight is to get WWII veterans to Washington D.C. so they can visit the memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices and those of their friends. “The WWII Memorial took way too long to be completed,” Matt declared. “By the time the memorial opened, who knows how many WWII veterans had already passed away without getting the opportunity to see it.”

 

“My father-in-law, who is 93 years old, served in the Battle of the Bulge. He took part in an Honor Flight Michigan trip about five years ago. My brother-in-law and nephew travelled to D.C. with him. It allowed them the opportunity to, not only chaperone their dad/grandpa to this epic event, but also to take part in seeing and understanding what it is all about.”

 

It costs about $900 to send one veteran from AZ to Washington D.C. Southwest Airlines plays a huge role, partnering with Honor Flight to shuttle veterans and chaperones. Hotel arrangements are taken care of. All costs for the veterans are covered by Honor Flight (chaperones pay their own way). Many of the elderly veterans need wheelchairs and other medical equipment; Honor Flight accommodates their needs.

 

Tom Webster picked up the narrative. “I’ve been involved with Honor Flight AZ for about a year now. There are 75 volunteers, but they had to cut off the volunteer applications, because there are so many people who want to get involved with this program. I can tell you from my experience that it’s an emotional experience every time you do it.”

 

With so many retirees living in this area, AZ has one of the largest Honor Flight programs in the country. “The organization, coordination, and facilitation are so remarkable; I’ve never seen anything like it. From the moment the veteran shows up at the curb, everything is taken care of. We greet them at the curb; escort them into an area of the Southwest terminal set aside for them; their bags are taken; they’re given a packet of information and a distinctive bright yellow t-shirt to put on, identifying them as WWII vets. Then we have time to get to know them. Honor Flight trains volunteers, ‘It’s not about you; it’s about them – pull them out and get them talking about their experiences.’ And I’ve heard some amazing stories.”

 

 Once the veterans get down to the gate, Southwest makes an announcement telling everyone in the terminal that these are WWII veterans headed to Washington D.C. on an Honor Flight. “Spontaneously, every time, people in the terminal stand up and start applauding, and they start crying. It chokes you up every time you see it. Then, at the gate, there is an honor guard waiting to see them off.”

 

The average age of the participating veterans is 93. Honor Flight Arizona keeps the vets out for two overnights. Not all state organizations stay that long, but the extra day allows them to go to the Korean War Memorial, Congress, and Arlington Cemetery, as well as the WWII Memorial. On the return flight, organizers have “mail call” for the vets with letters from loved ones and school children. “There’s not a dry eye in the place.” By spring of next year, Honor Flight AZ will have completed their waiting list of WWII veterans and will continue the program with Korean War veterans. “Tremendous program; very well run.”

 

Superstition Mountain Rotary will be presenting Honor Flight AZ with a check that will pay for two veterans to participate.