A SHORT HISTORY OF HONOR FLIGHT[i]
By Joseph A. Machado, LTC USA (Ret)
There is an inscription on the flagpoles at the entrance to the World War II Memorial that reads “Americans came to liberate, not to conquer, to restore freedom, and to end tyranny.” There are no more veterans of World War I alive and in five years, most of our World War II veterans will be gone. Honor Flight is committed to showing our Nation’s gratitude for the sacrifices of our senior veterans…veterans of World War II and the Korean War…the men and women who paid the terrible cost of the freedom we enjoy today in America and in most of the world.
MOAA Central Ohio Chapter supports the Honor Flight program through our members who volunteer to support Honor Flight Columbus and the Honor Flight Network. Our members donate their time and personal resources to help keep this veterans program flying high. Some of our World War II members have been on the receiving end of this great program which honors our senior veterans as well as terminally ill veterans of any wartime service…all at no cost to the honored veterans.
Chapter members are involved in every aspect of the program…from fund raising to cover the cost of each flight…to escorting the veterans on their Honor Flight. Each veteran’s escort is called a ‘Guardian’ by Honor Flight and pays his or her own way to escort the honored veteran so the honored veteran can participate at no cost. Each honored veteran is assigned his or her own Guardian to make certain he or she wants for nothing from the time they arrive at the airport to the time they return to be welcomed home by their family members at the end of their Honor Flight.
The Columbus hub is one of an extensive network of hubs in the United States and is one of the oldest and most active. There will be seven Honor Flights from the Columbus hub this year. Each Columbus Honor Flight consists of 80 to 85 veterans, each with his or her own Guardian. The Honor Flight day begins when the volunteer Ground Crew arrives at 4:00 AM. Guardians arrive at 4:30 AM and the senior veterans arrive at 5:00 AM to be welcomed by the Ground Crew and their assigned Guardians. From 5:00 AM until the Honor Flight returns to Columbus at 9:00 PM, each veteran and Guardian will be together. From 4:00 AM until the last Honor Flight wheelchair is stored at approximately 11:00 PM the Ground Crew will be working behind the scenes to make certain each Honor Flight is “one of the best days” of each senior veteran’s life!
Honor Flight began in Springfield, OH in May, 2005 as the idea of one person…Earl Morse, a retired Air Force Captain who was working in a small Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Springfield, OH. When the World War II Memorial was completed in May, 2004, asked his World War II veteran patients if they planned to visit their Memorial. Most replied that they planned do so with a family member or friend.
As summer turned to fall and then winter, the veterans returned to the clinic for follow-up visits and Earl asked if they had visited the World War II Memorial. It became clear that it simply wasn’t financially or physically possible for them to make the journey. Most of the veterans were in their 80s and were unable to complete a trip on their own. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time to take them on a three- to four-day trip to the nation’s capital.
Earl realized the majority of the veterans had given up hope of visiting the Memorial that was built to honor the service of these noble veterans and their comrades, many of whom had paid the ultimate sacrifice. Earl decided there had to be a way to get these heroes to D.C. to visit their Memorial.
In addition to being a Physician’s Assistant, Earl was a private pilot and a member of the flying club at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In December, 2004, Earl asked one of his World War II veteran patients if he could personally fly him to Washington, DC to visit the Memorial. His patient knew he would probably never get to see the Memorial without Earl’s assistance and gratefully accepted the offer.
A week later, Earl asked the same question of another World War II veteran and he also enthusiastically accepted Earl’s offer. It didn’t take long for Earl to realize there were many veterans who would have the same reaction. So, Earl asked for help from other pilots and in January, 2005, Earl addressed the members of his flying club, outlining a volunteer program to fly World War II veterans to their Memorial. There were two major stipulations to his request: the first was that the veterans pay nothing…the cost of the aircraft would have to be paid by the pilots; the second was that the pilots must personally escort the veterans for the entire day. In response, eleven pilots volunteered, and Honor Flight was born.
The first Honor Flight consisted of six small planes flying out of Springfield, OH carrying twelve World War II veterans on a visit to the World War II memorial in Washington, DC. Rented vans transported the pilots and veterans to the World War II Memorial and the response from both the veterans and the pilots was overwhelming. It was an experience that would remain with them for the rest of their lives and other flights were planned.
By August, 2005, there was a waiting list of WW II veterans, so Honor Flight began using commercial airlines. By the end of 2005, Honor Flight had transported 137 World War II veterans to visit their Memorial. Another 300 veterans completed the journey in 2006.
Shortly after Honor Flight began operating in Springfield, OH, another group called HonorAir had started a similar program in Hendersonville, NC. Jeff Miller, the originator of HonorAir organized and obtained funding to charter a commercial flight and in September, 2006 the first HonorAir flight took place. Jeff chartered another commercial flight in November and in less than three months, HonorAir had flown over 300 World War II veterans to Washington, DC. Jeff also started HonorAir programs in several other states and by the end of 2006, HonorAir had taken almost 900 World War II veterans to visit the World War II Memorial
.In February, 2006 Earl Morse and Jeff Miller combined efforts, co-founded Honor Flight Network and began expanding the program to other cities across the nation. While Honor Flight is committed to do all it can to show our gratitude to America’s senior veterans, the vision of the program is to continue to thank all veterans. In the future, Honor Flight Network will pay tribute to America’s veterans who served during the Vietnam War, followed by veterans of other wars. Honor Flight Network believes our veterans deserve America’s thanks and the program is just a small token of appreciation for those that gave so much.
Funded by the donations of a grateful nation and generous corporate sponsors, by the end of 2015, the Honor Flight Network will have transported several hundred thousand veterans of World War II and the Korean War to receive our Nation’s thanks with a visit to the memorials built to honor their service and sacrifice. For additional information, please visit the Honor Flight Network website at http://www.honorflight.org/ and the Honor Flight Columbus website at http://www.honorflightcolumbus.org/.
[i] In addition to the author’s personal research, knowledge and notes, the information for this history came from the website of Honor Flight Network and Honor Flight Columbus. The author is solely responsible for all errors, omissions and inaccuracies.