Central Missouri Honor Flight - by Steve Paulsell
Tonight, we leave Missouri with the 50th Honor Flight, with another 110 veterans on board. Since our inception in 2009, we have served 3,411 veterans. We transport heroes from throughout Central Missouri to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at their memorials at no cost to them. But the Honor Flight is much more than taking the veterans to their respective memorials in D.C. It is an opportunity for veterans to share their war time experiences with others who understand what it was like, to experience the appreciation that many never had, to understand that their sacrifice has not been forgotten. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for our veterans to experience emotional healing. There are so many stories of veterans' lives being changed, families being changed, questions that have tormented veterans for decades being answered and veterans being reconnected with each other.
Each flight has its own set of memories, but here is just a small sample of why we have made this our mission of service to veterans:
The WWII veteran who grew up as an orphan and never received one letter during mail call during his 2.5 years of service overseas finally gets a letter: Part of our return flight, we replicate mail call and unbeknownst to the veterans, we have collected letters for each veteran on the flight. So this veteran was finally able to receive mail during mail call 70 years after his service to our country. It was very emotional, and 1.5 years later, his nurse who was by his side as he passed said he was still clutching those letters in his hand and talking about the honor flight before he died.
Finally getting to thank the strangers who saved him: We travel on a commercial flight, so we often have a few members of the traveling pubic with us. A passenger in the back of the plane wanted to speak with us, and after hearing his story, we allowed him to use the microphone to address the Korean War Veterans. He thanked them for "saving my country and fighting with my grandpa". He then went down the aisle and bowed to and shook each veterans hand.
A village was saved, and a doctor was born: As we were leaving Reagan National Airport, we had about 60 Vietnam veterans with us and many were wearing their Vietnam veteran caps, and as they were waiting in the TSA security line, a middle-aged oriental man approached one of them and asked when he served in Vietnam. The veteran told him and then the man asked where he had served. The veteran told him the name of the small village. The oriental man shook the veterans' hand and said, "I was nine years old when you were in my village. Had you and the other soldiers not been there, me and my entire family would have been killed. Thank you for saving us." As it turned out, this man was a renowned Vietnamese physician who was returning from speaking at a medical conference.
50 guardians and staff go along to assist the veterans including a bus driver, physicians and photographers. Other volunteers work in the weeks prior to the flight to contact the veterans who have applied for the flight, conduct pre-flight meetings, prepare for the departure and then other staff assist with the homecoming. There is even a Welcome Home event two weeks after the return where videos are shared of the trip over dinner which other volunteers assist with.
If you would like to be a part of Central Missouri Honor Flight, here are the ways you can help:
We need money to "stay in the air". We have 360 Vietnam veterans on the waiting list and it grows every day. A flight costs $90,000. We depend, solely, on donations. All funds are used locally and no one with Central Missouri Honor Flight receives any compensation. It truly is an all volunteer effort.
We also need help with recruitment. If anyone knows a veteran of WWII, Korea or Vietnam who has not already gone or applied to go on the honor flight, encourage them to do so.
We need guardians to go as escorts on our flights. Our selection criteria requires them to be medically trained in a field beneficial to our flights, or a younger veteran of military service.
We also need volunteers to serve in our many support functions. Applications for all of these can be found at http://centralmissourihonorflight.com/