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How to Arrange an Honor Flight for a Veteran

A VIP visit to national memorials in Washington awaits

April 19, 2022 - Washington D.C., District of Columbia, United States - Marines with the Silent Drill Platoon shake hands with veterans following an Honor Flight Network performance at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., April 19, 2022. The Honor Flight Network is a non profit organization dedicated to transporting American veterans to Washington D.C. to visit war memorials, honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  (Credit Image: © U.S. Marines/ZUMA Press Wire Service/ZUMAPRESS.com)
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Every veteran who served in World War II, Korea or Vietnam and all veterans who are terminally ill or severely injured are eligible to apply to a remarkable program that flies them to the nation’s capital, where they will visit the memorials to American wars and be given a VIP experience. To be eligible, you must have served during wartime, though not necessarily in combat.

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The Honor Flight Network, which has 129 independent hubs and is supported by donations and volunteers, was established in 2005 and has flown more than 250,000 veterans to Washington. After a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Honors Flights have resumed.

Here is what veterans and their families need to know when they consider participating in this unique tribute to military service.

What happens on an Honor Flight trip?

Veterans from across the country board planes with their chosen guardian, who is a physically able friend or family member or an Honor Flight volunteer. In some states high school seniors volunteer as guardians, which doubles as their senior trip. Spouses cannot come on the journey unless they are also veterans, but family members and friends are encouraged to travel separately to Washington and meet the veterans there.

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Some trips last a day, and veterans can return the same evening if they are close to Washington. For others, the journey can take several days. Along the way, crowds clap and cheer for the veterans. They typically visit the World War II, Korea and Vietnam memorials, along with the Air Force Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the Marine Corps Memorial. Five more memorials are being planned; they will commemorate the global war on terrorism since 9/11, Desert Storm, World War I, and Native American veterans and African Americans (both free and enslaved) who served in the American Revolution.

What about veterans with health issues?

Professional medical care is provided. EMTs or nurses fly with most groups, and all veteran groups have medics accompanying them throughout their time in the capital. Wheelchairs are provided.

“We can handle veterans who are mobile, immobile, on oxygen, colostomy or ostomy bags, [and other conditions],” says Honor Flight Network CEO Meredith Rosenbeck. “We also travel with terminally ill veterans, so we are equipped to handle a lot of things. We want to get all of our veterans to see their memorials, and we can absolutely accommodate medical needs.” 

How much does an Honor Flight cost?

The program pays all costs for eligible veterans. The accompanying guardians make a suggested donation, which ranges from $500 to $1,200. The Honor Flight Network is working on a partnership with AARP to help cover the expenses for guardians who are veterans themselves. The organization relies on financial donations from the public and also urges people to become volunteers who will donate their time, even for something as simple as welcoming veterans back to a local airport.

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How long is the waiting list?

Veterans should contact the hub nearest to them. The frequency of trips varies based on each hub, Rosenbeck explains, with some organizing one excursion per year and others arranging several. Their schedule is posted online and updated frequently. Wait times vary, but Rosenbeck estimates the minimum period between applying and traveling to be six months. “We prioritize based on age, so our World War II veterans get priority. They go to the top of the waiting list, inevitably, because, sadly, there just aren’t that many of them left. If a veteran has less than six months to a year to live, then they can be prioritized, even if they are from recent conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq.”

What emotional benefits have come from Honor Flight trips?

Rosenbeck remembers a Korean War veteran — who happened to be my grandfather — being approached by young South Koreans who thanked him for providing their freedom. She has seen numerous veterans connect with old friends and, sometimes, feel for the first time in their lives that their service is being honored. The trips also prompt conversations with family and friends that veterans hadn’t had before.

“A lot of times, veterans will tell their families just a layer on the top of their story, a surface thing,” Rosenbeck says. “Once they go to D.C. and have this special opportunity to be with other veterans at the memorials, they are often moved to share more of their story. Then when they get home, you find they then share that deeper story with their family.”

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter and editor. The granddaughter of a veteran, her work has been published in the Washington Post and Reader’s Digest. You can learn more about her at https://www.alexandra-frost.com.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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