Worthy Tribute: Honor Flights

A family relative, Doyce L Gilmer, husband of my wife’s aunt Phala Gilmer, told me about his recent Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. dear herodear heroHe shared a variety of mementos from the trip – lots of photographs, a printed photo album and letters, many handwritten, from friends and schoolchildren … complete with colored art and hand drawn images.
Doyce served in the Army during the Korean War; on his flight there were 42 veterans – 40 Korean and two that served in World War II.

The Honor Flight program is a commendable example of a well-conceived salute to achievement: these veteran honorees are “hugged” the entire trip.  Doyce recounted that, on his trip during taxiing to depart, their plane was saluted by airport fire truck water cannons.  On arrival in DC they were greeted at the airport by Honor Flight and USO volunteers, local active duty military and airport bystanders.  The first stop on the journey was the WWII Memorial then the tour continued to the Korean, Vietnam, and Lincoln memorials.  The veterans are honored that evening in Washington with a Heroes’ Banquet. In addition to the veterans, guests to the banquet include an honor guard that presents the colors, active military service personnel and guest speakers.  The second day includes Arlington National Cemetery to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.   Next is a visit to the graveside of the America’s most decorated WWII solider, fellow Texan Audie Murphy.  The veterans tour the Marine Corps War Memorial (best known as “Iwo Jima”), the Air Force Memorial and the FDR National Memorial.   According to Doyce, one of the highlights of the trip on the return flight home was “mail call” … reminiscent of that tradition in wartime in anticipation by GI’s of receiving cards or letters from home.  On the return home the veterans receive a heroes’ welcome.
Up until almost a year ago I’d never heard of Honor Flights, but considering my work with organizations to honor achievement and service I went online to learn the story of this organization that stages amazing tributes to deserved honorees.
It all started modestly, when Earl Morse, a retired Air Force Captain and physician’s assistant was asked by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. Earl discovered that, among his patients a frequent topic of discussion was their desire to see the World War II Memorial completed the year before in Washington, D.C. in 2004.  Now in their 80s, for most of the veterans, reality had set in; it was clear that they were not financially or physically able to make the journey. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time to complete the 3 to 4 day trip to the nation’s capital.
inspired by their stories, Earl … a member of one of the nation’s largest aero clubs at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio … asked the 150 members of the club at a meeting for volunteers to fly vets to Washington DC. There were two stipulations: that the vets pay nothing and that the pilots personally escort the vets around DC for the entire day. In May 2005, six small private planes flew 12 happy vets to Manassas, Virginia just outside of Washington.
septvetsToday, there are 130 Honor Flight hubs in 44 states. In 2015 some 20,886 veterans were flown to Washington along with 19,093 guardians; as a testament to the popularity of these trips there are 21,032 vets on the waiting list.
This example of deserved honor falls into the context of duty and service to a cause – freedom. Earl Morse’s example is inspiring because while the idea was simple, it teaches us the power tribute to those who make contributions to business and industry … and causes that serve humanity. Many of these soldiers are moved to tears by the acknowledgment of their service.
At Visible Applause, we are privileged to help leaders design fitting tributes to honor employees and contributors to your cause … and to your constituency.  The Honor Flight program is a commendable example of a well-conceived salute to achievement: these veteran honorees are “hugged” the entire trip from airport sendoff, greeting upon arrival, banquet, tours of  war memorials … WW II, Korean and Viet Nam … volunteer chaperons the entire time and lastly, a welcome home reception.

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