Hometown Highlight: FCB Honors Veterans Organization

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day. Sadly, many of our WWII veterans will never have a chance to visit Washington D.C. to see their memorial.

Fortunately, one organization, the Honor Flight, makes this visit possible for veterans in our community.

This nonprofit 501(c)3 organization pays tribute to American heroes of past decades by providing WWII veterans the opportunity to travel to our nation’s capital to view special landmarks like the WWII Memorial… absolutely free of charge to them.

The Texas Honor Flight has chapters in: Amarillo, Austin, Lubbock and Midland, among others. While each chapter varies, most Texas groups provide trips twice yearly, in the spring and fall. The trip covers everything, including a sendoff party, tours and wreaths for veterans to lay in honor of the fallen. As a special tribute, most chapters even employ a bagpiper to assist with the sendoff party. Another unique touch is “mail call,” which is carried out in flight; when every veteran receives letters of gratitude from all ages of people in their community.

On average, the estimated per person cost for the trip can range from $1,500 to $2,000 and anywhere from 50 to 120 veterans attend each trip (guardians welcome). Most chapters have expanded to include veterans of other wars -all equally deserving- and even match veterans with a guardian who has also served in the military.

All expenses are paid for by businesses, civic clubs and individual donors. “This project is about patriotism, community and is a non-political project. We are just about honoring our heroes, plain and simple,” Permian Basin Chairman John West said.

So how did this special organization get its start? The Honor Flight Network program was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and Retired Air Force Captain. Earl wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for the past 27 years. After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Earl was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. In May of 2004, the World War II Memorial was finally completed and dedicated in Washington, D.C. and quickly became the topic of discussion among his World War II veteran patients. Earl repeatedly asked these veterans if they would ever travel to visit their memorial. Most felt that eventually, somehow, they would make it to D.C., perhaps with a family member or friend.

As summer turned to fall and then winter, these same veterans returned to the clinic for their follow-up visits. By now, reality had settled in; it was clear to most veterans that it simply wasn’t financially or physically possible for them to make the journey. Most of these senior veterans were in their 80s and lacked the physical and mental wherewithal to complete a trip on their own. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time to complete the three-day to four-day trip to the nation’s capital. In addition to being a physician assistant, Earl was also a private pilot and a member of one of America’s largest aero clubs located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Things started coming together.

In December of 2004, Earl asked one of his World War II veteran patients if it would be okay if he personally flew him out to D.C., free of charge, to visit his memorial. The veteran broke down and cried. Earl posed the same question to a second World War II veteran a week later. He too cried and enthusiastically accepted the trip. It didn’t take long for Earl to realize that there were many veterans who would have the same reaction. In January of 2005, Earl addressed about 150 members of the aero club during a safety meeting, outlining a volunteer program to fly veterans to their memorial. There were two major stipulations to his request. The first was that the veterans pay nothing; the entire aircraft rental ($600 to $1200 for the day) would have to be paid solely by the pilots. The second was that the pilots personally escort the veterans around D.C. for the entire day. After Earl spoke, eleven pilots who had never met his patients stepped up to volunteer and Honor Flight was born.

The inaugural Honor Flight Tour took place in May of 2005. Six small planes flew out of Springfield, Ohio taking twelve World War II veterans on a visit to the memorial in Washington, DC. In August of 2005, an ever-expanding waiting list of veterans led the transition to commercial airline carriers with the goal of accommodating as many veterans as possible.

Think you'd like to contribute to this special cause? While monetary donations are accepted and appreciated, several chapters also host volunteer meetings to discuss their current need for volunteers. Volunteers can assist with fundraising events, various sendoff party duties and other efforts.

Of course, monetary donations help too. Money raised will go toward things like: the sendoff party, shirts, bagpiper, wreaths for laying at the memorial, food, gratuities, memory books, flight and hotel, to name a few.

For more information, or to find a hub near you, visit the Texas Honor Flight Connection website here.

Article contribution: HonorFlight.org