The national Honor Flight program began when one man, Earl Morse, realized that all too many of the World War II soldiers, sailors, Airmen, and Marines being honored by the National WWII Memorial were too old or infirm to travel to see it. Earl was a physician’s assistant in a Dayton, Ohio VA clinic. During 2004 the Memorial was often in the news. Earl would ask his WWII patients if they were planning to go see it? Almost all said they could not: too old, too far, too expensive, too physically demanding. Earl, a retired Air Force Captain, and some of his private pilot friends took the first Honor Flight of six private planes and twelve WWII veterans to Washington, DC in May 2005 at no charge to the veterans. On 12 November 2008 we in Bloomington took our first group of Hoosier Honor Flight veterans to DC, ultimately carrying 278 veterans before running out of applications from WWII and Korean War vets and ceasing operations. (I should say 278 customer veterans because so many of the helpers who paid up to $400 to go were veterans of more recent wars, such as Vietnam.)
And that, I thought, was the end of the local Honor Flight story. I was wrong. It was only the end of Phase I.
In 2011, Pam Mow (Gold Star mother herself and president of the Indiana Gold Star Mothers) and Grant Thompson (took his wife’s Great Uncle Marvin, a WWII veteran and survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, then heard of Hoosier Honor Flight) requested assistance in starting their own Honor Flight hubs based in Lafayette and Indianapolis, respectively. Both the Greater Lafayette Honor Flight (seventeen flights as of 18 September 2017) and Indy Honor Flight (twenty-four as of 9 September 2017) are doing well. So well they have been taking Vietnam veterans.
Let me say that again: the Lafayette and Indianapolis honor flights are taking Vietnam veterans.
Pam asked me three times over the last couple of years to go on one of the Lafayette flights. I finally agreed a couple of months ago and went with 79 other Vietnam vets on the 18 September flight from Purdue Airport west of Lafayette. The Purdue Band played during our catered breakfast in a hanger. The World’s Largest Drum and the Golden Girl were there. Each of us had a "guardian" whose sole task during the day was to take care of us. The guardians paid $500 each for the privilege. We flew directly into Reagan National Airport and rolled out in three tour buses toward the WWII Memorial. A guide provided non-stop commentary (history, geography, buildings, and jokes) along the way. Motorcycle police protected escorted our convoy through intersections, ignoring red lights. We were watered and fed enough during the day to bloat, but restrooms were at every stop and on the airplane and buses. Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Marine Corps Memorial (being restored), Air Force Memorial, Pentagon, and Arlington National Cemetery for the Changing of the Guard and to present our Honor Flight’s wreath. Back to Reagan, walk right through security, on to the airplane and back. Back to hundreds of cheering people waving flags. Old, middle aged, young, and children. "Thank you for your service!" "Thank you for your service!" All wanting to shake your hand. I broke down at seeing the kids, gathered myself, then thanked them for being there and told them how much it meant.
We Vietnam veterans thought ourselves so young that we would only be helpers to the old veterans – well, we’re not so young now and many of us have passed away. There are people now who want to thank us for our service just as we thanked the WWII and Korean War veterans. Welcome to Phase II.
I had a great, and personally touching, time on the 18th of September. Many of you now can too. I encourage Vietnam veterans to apply to Lafayette or Indianapolis. You will not regret it.