After grounding all trips due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Honor Flight Network is returning to the sky Aug. 18 to fly veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour the memorials dedicated to their service.
The nonprofit organizes and provides the service to veterans who would not otherwise be able to afford the trip. Each year, about 25,000 veterans are flown to Washington; this year, the group anticipates flying its 250,000th veteran since the program began 16 years ago. Each veteran is assigned a “guardian” who assists them during their trip and ensures that they have a safe experience.
AARP and the Honor Flight Network
For two years in a row AARP has been a sponsor of the Honor Flight Network’s annual summit and Lone Eagle Program, helping those in rural and underserved areas participate. The Lone Eagle Program meets a huge need to make sure all eligible veterans can be served with an Honor Flight in their lifetime.
This year, AARP is the official sponsor of one of Honor Flight’s wheelchair-accessible buses that will carry veterans and their guardians between D.C.-area airports and all the memorials and Arlington National Cemetery.
The first Honor Flight was piloted in 2005 by the group’s founder, Earl Morris, who learned that many World War II veterans were unable to travel to the nation’s capital to see the unveiling of the WWII memorial. News of Morris’ efforts spread to other communities. Today, a network of regional hubs supports the program.
“The main importance is to finally say ‘thank you,’” said Honor Flight Network’s board chair, Dave Smith. “We had thousands who served during World War II — they did their service, they came home, went back to work, started families and really didn’t ask for any thanks.”
The organization provides trips to veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as well as to those who are catastrophically ill or injured from all eras of service.
Don Hubbard, a WWII veteran, described his Honor Flight experience as life changing. “It was almost mystical to see these diverse old men and women — we had two former military nurses — slowly change,” he recalled. “For the first time in years many were back in a known military environment again, swapping tales and laughs with other vets who had shared their own experiences.”
No veteran left behind
Forty-five states have at least one regional hub that is staffed with the help of volunteers and solely funded from community donations. Veterans who don’t live within 120 miles of a regional hub may be eligible for the Lone Eagle Honor Flight program, which was designed to ensure that all qualifying veterans, regardless of geographic location, may participate in an Honor Flight trip.
In addition to exposing veterans to the sights and sounds of the military memorials in Washington, Honor Flight volunteers organize a host of activities for veterans including assembling crowds who cheer upon their arrival and other opportunities for participants to engage and share stories with each other.
“I am 89 years old and have seen a lot during that time. I thought I was long past the emotion of crying,” said WWII veteran Frank McClatchie. “Tears came streaming down my face during the airport receptions. I really choked up during those events so that I could not even talk for quite a while.”
How to Donate or Apply to Honor Flight
Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency’s Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.