COLUMBIA — The group that has sent more than 2,000 South Carolina World War II veterans on free tours of the Washington memorials erected in their honor wants to add veterans of the Korean conflict to their Honor Flights.
Honor Flight South Carolina organizer Bill Dukes said in an interview that the group has begun taking applications for upcoming flights from those who served in the Korean conflict.
“We want to honor as many of the World War II vets as we can,” said Dukes, who attended an organizational meeting in Columbia for a flight set for Sept. 26.
That flight is full with 90 veterans and 60 escorts and is sponsored by the Electrical Cooperatives of South Carolina.
“We are desperately looking for more veterans for our Nov. 7 flight, and we don’t want to leave anyone out,” said Vicki Sweeten, a member of the Honor Flight board.
Sweeten said the group has applications for about three dozen World War II veterans at this time, and there is room on the flight for dozens more.
Many veterans do not have email or use computers, so the organization is relying on friends or family members to get in touch with the organization if they think their veteran might be able to make the trip, she said.
The daylong Washington tour takes in the memorial dedicated to those who served in World War II, as well as the Korean, Vietnam and Iwo Jima memorials. The tour also stops at Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Dukes notes that only about 1.7 million of the nation’s 16 million World War II veterans are still living, so it is important to try to bring as many veterans to Washington to see the memorials as long as they are physically able.
“We are losing about 800 of these veterans every day,” Dukes said.
A group of volunteer physicians and nurses go over each veteran’s medical records ahead of time to make sure they can handle the rigors of the tour. For some, it is the first time they have been on an airplane, he said.
Because of the interest in supporting the nation’s military veterans, Dukes said the Honor Flight board has decided to expand its search for military who want to take the free tours, which are designed to give many of the veterans the rousing welcome home that they did not get years ago.
The Columbia restaurateur first organized a flight in 2008 and the state has had about four every year since that time.
He was inspired by a visit with his own father to the Washington monuments and said he wanted to offer more veterans the chance for such reflection and remembrance. Dukes served in the Air Force for about four years in the 1960s.
“We are ready to go on to another chapter and recognize that the Korean veterans deserve some special recognition as well,” Dukes said.
If there is room for the Korean veterans on the Nov. 7 and no other World War II vets express an interest, the Korean veterans will be given the seats. Another flight may be in the works for the spring, Dukes added.