American Veterans Revisit WWII Memorial on ‘Honor Flight’
With more than 22 million American Veterans in the U.S. alone, our country has seen a great deal of dedicated service from our soldiers. As veterans of World War II grow older, the opportunities to pay them tribute are dwindling. The Honor Flight Network is doing what it can to ensure these veterans are reminded of our country’s gratitude by offering them a unique experience they may have never thought possible.
Honor Flight Syracuse, one of the 143 hubs of the national Honor Flight Network, works to help every willing and capable war veteran in the greater Syracuse area obtain a flight or bus trip to visit the National WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. The trips are completely free of charge and funded by donations and gifts. Since inception in May of 2012, the Syracuse hub has completed ten missions, carrying more than 600 veterans ranging in age from 86-101 years old.
“Due to the advancing age and fixed income of World War II veterans, many are unable to visit the memorial that was built and designed in their honor,” said President of Honor Flight Syracuse, Randall Flath. “We not only want to give them the chance to see the meaningful memorial, but to remind them that they’re service and sacrifices for our country are still appreciated every day.”
The organization runs its missions with the help of hundreds of volunteers who donate their time. The volunteers play crucial roles by aiding with flight departures and “welcome home” ceremonies, assembling backpacks and serving as personal guardians. During the missions, each veteran is accompanied by a volunteer guardian to ensure a safe and comfortable experience. Flath was inspired to launch the Syracuse chapter of the organization after acting as a guardian for his father during his own mission in Rochester, NY.
“After traveling alongside my father, the happiness I saw the trip bring to those veterans was absolutely immeasurable,” said Flath. “I knew I wanted to help give more veterans the opportunity to have the same experience.”
Honor Flight received a Community Foundation grant to purchase health and safety equipment, transport chairs and handheld radios for use during the missions.
“The Community Foundation grant has been an amazing source of funding for us,” said Flath. “It costs us about $85,000 to carry out each mission with food and travel costs, and grants like this one will help us achieve our goal of flying 2 missions next year.”
When arriving back at the airport after each mission, the veterans are greeted with a warm welcome of bagpipers, friends and neighbors who gather there to mark the final leg of their journey with a show of gratitude.
Although for some a mission can be a solemn trip of difficult memories, they are able to experience it together with their comrades from their days of service, family members, and caring volunteers by their side. Families of veterans have reported that the tours have stirred memories that the veterans shared with their loved ones for the first time ever and ultimately brought family members closer together to record history for future generations.
All veterans are encouraged to apply for the program with top priority given to the most senior- heroes – veterans of World War II and any war veteran with a terminal illness. Additionally, Honor Flight has begun outreach to Korean War and Vietnam War veterans. In the future, veterans of other conflicts will be served on a chronological basis to ensure that one day all veterans are provided to the opportunity for one more “Honor Flight.”
The organization recently launched a its new Flags of our Heroes program that provides families with an opportunity to honor deceased veterans who did not have the chance to experience their own Honor Flight. A flag of a deceased War Veteran is taken along with the veteran’s photo on a mission to the Memorial in Washington, D.C. The flag and photo are then placed in front of the Memorial and a photo taken. The family then receives a photo and a formal certificate from Honor Flight Syracuse honoring the veteran and their participation in spirit with us on that Mission.