Since the World War II Memorial was erected on Washington DC’s national mall four years ago, few of the thousands flocking to the site daily are surviving servicemen.
Volunteer-staffed and donation-funded Honor Flights provide free travel and guardianship for World War II veterans to visit the monument that memorializes their service.
“In 10 years as an ExpressJet pilot, flying the Honor Flight was the most rewarding day of my career. As an air force veteran, I felt great pride being part of a day to honor those who gave so much,” said ExpressJet’s Honor Flight pilot Jeff Rupp.
ExpressJet Airlines’ charter service will fly the Northwestern Ohio Honor Flight hub’s second Honor Flight in late June, after flying 29 veterans from Toledo on April 30 for the inaugural flight.
Dee Pakulski, whose father was a WWII veteran, founded the Northwestern Ohio hub of this program after serving as an Honor Flight guardian for a terminally-ill World War II veteran through the Michigan hub of the program.
“Each day, we lose more of our greatest generation of Americans,” Pakulski said. “Many of these brave Americans returned from service after victory unnoticed. Many of them hear words of thanks and appreciation for the first time when they visit the Memorial.”
According to the honor flight website, each day, 1200 World War II veterans die. Through the program’s TLC or “their last chance” initiative priority is given to terminally-ill veterans.
“Safety is our top priority,” Pakulski said. “These veterans are in their ’80s and ’90s and require wheelchairs, oxygen, and they need special travel accommodations.”
ExpressJet’s chartered service provided flexibility, allowing the group to give the veterans an unforgettable day to experience the capitol of the nation they fought to defend.
Each Honor Flight hub pays for the veterans’ travel through the group’s fundraising and sponsorship efforts.
Since starting in 2005, the Honor Flight network has expanded to 30 states. A local core of volunteers raises funds and plans trips for area veterans out of each Honor Flight hub. Each veteran is paired with a volunteer guardian. Though trips for veterans are free, guardians pay for their own travel.
As awareness for the program has grown, many hubs have seen waiting lists of veterans grow into the hundreds.
“We go to bed every night knowing that as we are raising funds and planning for the next Honor Flight, some of the veterans may not be here tomorrow. We definitely want to provide as many trips to as many veterans as we can,” continued Pukulski.
She advises anyone interested in helping to donate funds to their local hub, serve as a volunteer fundraiser or guardian, or set up a local Honor Flight hub in their area, to contact the national honor flight organization at www.honorflight.org.