This idea of bringing vets to DC was the brainchild of Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force Captain. When the WW II memorial was finished and dedicated in May of 2004, it sparked a lot of interest among Morse's patients at the VA clinic in Springfield, Ohio. Morse's vision spread to 30 states. Various branches pool their resources, experience, and expertise. Since its inception, the Honor Flight Network has brought more than 40,000 vets of WW II, Korea, and Viet Nam to DC. This has been accomplished at absolutely no cost to the vets themselves.
I have with me Karen Levy from Greater St. Louis Honor Flight. She was part of the contingent I met at Reagan in June. Welcome to OpEdNews, Karen. How did you get involved in this in the first place?
Many of my family members were in the military, although I was not. This is my way to serve our country. I'm honored to be on two veterans boards. I'm married, have two children, and work at Anheuser-Busch.
How long has Honor Flight been going on in your neck of the woods?
We just started Honor Flight in St. Louis in April 2009 and we have five board members who also fly as Guardians, at our own cost. We pay for all the mailing, printing, the website, and all the leg work it takes to organize and raise money for each trip. We feed these vets and take care of all their needs, accompanying them to the memorial and on tour, arriving home late that same day.
How does Honor Flight work?
It started in Ohio, and now operates out of 33 cities with 78 hubs. Every hub has a board that works independently of the others, each gathering financial support for trips for their local veterans. Money sent to National stays at National, so it's important that folks know to send financial support to the closest hub so their home veterans will get to DC. If there is no hub nearby, they can contact me so we can help them get a hub started. If we cannot take the vet on one of our trips, I will get the money or application to the closest hub. I can also help those interested in donating cash/service or volunteering for a trip.
What's the rush?
We want to get these veterans to DC as fast as possible because an estimated 200 in the US pass daily, 20-30 in Missouri alone. We work as fast as we can, each month taking the largest group of veterans we can afford. That depends entirely on donations. We had enough to take more than twenty veterans on the June trip. But we still have a two-year wait list.
What makes these trips so expensive?
Even with all the donated services, the June trip still cost us nearly $10,000.00. The largest single expense is the plane tickets: $6500.00 this time. (Although we beg for a break, the airlines don't give us even a dime off.) Then there's the bus: $1300.00, and food: $500.00. We also supply rented oxygen tanks, name tags, certificates and frames, [Honor Flight] T-shirts, WWII books, snacks, and a tip for the bus driver. We trade or barter for wheelchairs and medical needs. The USO provides breakfast and coffee.
Most of the funding comes from board members asking for donations from people they know. It becomes hard to tap the same people all the time. So far, we've gotten a sizable contribution from the St. Louis Electric Co. and Anheuser-Busch but we've gotten no money at all from other companies. We remain hopeful that they will come through for us, too.
Our next flight was to be July 19th, but we didn't raise enough money. We are looking for a date in August and hope to do one then, one in September, and one in October. Again, it all depends on the donations. We would like to give the vets hats too, but have no money for that right now.
Veterans' organizations sometimes sponsor a veteran or two. Not many veteran groups are involved yet. Maybe they are not aware of Honor Flight Network and what we do. We also get small donations from citizens who read about us or see a spot in the media.
So, how can interested readers get involved?
I believe that every person has a part to play, so we can together honor our WWII veterans with a trip to DC before it is too late. Many might not be able to contribute a lot financially, but there is still plenty to do. We need volunteers to network, promote the program, put publicity or advertising on the internet (like you're doing, thank you), TV, radio and such; help with the mailing and printing, paper supplies, food supplies for lunches, dinners, and snacks; help to get a web-site up and running; legal advice; and help for the many hours we spend on our phones. We could especially use assistance with car rental discounts and vouchers for free or reduced plane tickets. This would greatly relieve the board members and volunteers who have carried so much of the financial burden. That way, we don't wear out the worker-bees. So much needs to be done, we need all the help we can get to make this program successful.
Thank you, Karen. Good luck with your mission.
Thank you Joan, for caring enough to offer your talents and time to help us. I am so glad to have met you and your son. God's blessings.
Contact Karen Levy at the Greater St. Louis chapter of Honor Flight: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell her you read this OpEdNews interview and appreciate what they're doing.
Greater St. Louis chapter website:- http://www.gslhonorflight.org
Honor Flight Network, http://www.honorflight.org/ national headquarters
From the Honor Flight Network website:
Honorflight.com and Honorflights.com are NOT associated with Honor Flight Network, Inc. (honorflight.org). The aforementioned sites are for companies that charge a fee for flights to visit the World War II Memorial. The flights and tours that Honor Flight Network provides World War II and terminally ill veterans are absolutely FREE.