Honor Flight volunteers are finding it’s more difficult locating able-bodied veterans of World War II for the nonprofit’s fifth trip to visit the WWII Memorial and other places in the nation’s capital.
The fifth Honor Flight Grand Strand-Myrtle Beach is set for Oct. 24, and more than 35 seats for WWII veterans are available. If you are a WWII veteran, physically able to make the trip, or if you know a veteran eligible for the no-charge charter flight – perhaps an uncle or cousin or a member of your church – contact Honor Flight.
“We definitely need veterans,” says Honor Flight volunteer Kris Southard, director of public relations. As of Tuesday, 52 veterans were signed up for 90 veterans’ seats. The May 23 trip included 90 WWII veterans, their guardian sponsors, a medical team and Honor Flight organizers. Guardian sponsors make a $500 Honor Flight contribution to accompany the WWII veterans on the flights. The charter flights cost around $60,000 each and are financed from donations and fundraising events.
Honor Flight is a national nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with chapters across the nation. The area chapter’s first trip was Nov. 10, 2010, and two more were in May and October 2011. Walter Kollet, chairman for Honor Flight Myrtle Beach, has noted that WWII veterans are dying at the rate of about 1,200 a day. The main purpose of Honor Flight is to visit the WWII Memorial, which was dedicated in 2004.
Memorials for those who died or served in the Korean and Vietnam wars were completed years before the WWII Memorial. Those are included on Honor Flight trips as well as the Navy Memorial, the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington, Va., and Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in the national cemetery. Veterans who have been on the trips have been impressed, to put it mildly. They have returned to Myrtle Beach to rousing welcome home ceremonies. Likewise, guardian sponsors and others on the previous trips have lasting impressions and strong personal feelings for the Greatest Generation members who served their country in World War II.
Guardians have been easier to locate than veterans. Southard is confident that none of the 52 veterans approved for Oct. 24 has been on previous Honor Flights, but says “Certainly, it’s getting harder to fill a flight from just Horry County. We are actually reaching out to Wilmington [N.C.] and Charleston. We are reaching out farther to Columbia. We will keep looking.”
While the Honor Flight organizers evaluate before every trip whether there is still a need for more visits, Southard says they are not yet at the point where they feel all WWII vets have been reached. In fact, “we would love to have two more [trips] next year.”
Now, the focus is on locating three dozen or so more WWII vets for the Oct. 24 Honor Flight. In addition to veterans organizations such as American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War posts, “Churches have been really good about identifying veterans,” Southard says.
Perhaps you know a WWII veteran. Ask if he or she has been on an Honor Flight.