For the fifth time since November 2010, Honor Flight Myrtle Beach will give World War II-era veterans a salute with a day trip to Washington, D.C.
A full flight with 76 guests, as well as their traveling companions and a medical team, will make the trek Wednesday and return to Myrtle Beach to a welcome-home celebration by invited groups including veterans, motorcyclists such as Rolling Thunder, and schools.
Besides their first stop, at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, where the veterans can share their own collective salute to late colleagues, they also take a bus tour of the nation’s capital, which covers other memorials for Abraham Lincoln, the Navy, Marine Corps, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and Women in Military Service for America, and the final stop, Arlington National Cemetery.
Kris Southard handles publicity for Honor Flight Myrtle Beach, part of a national nonprofit organization with local chapters that treat World War II veterans to such getaways. She first encountered the Honor Flight cause in 2010 from Greensboro, N.C., accompanying her father, a soldier who served in the European Theater.
Southard, a former flight attendant for Piedmont Airlines before its merger with US Airways, also said the Grand Strand community scoops up seats routinely.
Question | How are plans coordinated in lining up such memory-making travels, as 93 veterans experienced May 23 in touring our nation’s capital?
Answer | We’ll be about two months out, and oh, my gosh: Are we able to fill a plane? Then, boom, it’s like, where did all these veterans come from? ...
So far, we have taken a total of 400 to 500 people in the first four Honor Flights from Myrtle Beach. We feel like there are more out there. We even tell the veterans: You know where other veterans are. Please identify them for us and tell us who they are so we can reach out to the others. The biggest PR representatives are those who have already been on the flight.
Q. | With the various local organizations, including Boy and Girl Scouts troops, that answer the call and volunteer to help with welcoming back each flight, how much does that touch the honored travelers and the coordinators?
A. | We are so excited that the younger kids, from high schools and elementary schools ... are learning about this. I think they see these veterans here are like their grandfathers, yet their own grandfathers probably never told them about their wartime experiences. These flights and the media coverage each flight gets, it tells some of those stories. ...
They need to know that this is the greatest generation. I also would like teachers and history teachers in our schools to contact Honor Flight or me to invite a veteran to talk about his war experience. Secondhand stories, while they are great teaching tools, it’s nothing like listening to the veteran who was actually there.
Q. | Do Honor Flights going to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, closer to the capital than Dulles International Airport in suburban Virginia, make the day and proximity to the sites, easier, with such a loaded agenda for sightseeing?
A. | Yes, and the welcome ceremony there is just as impressive. The general public there doesn’t know Honor Flights are coming in. They just announce it, and you should see the people stop and clap and cheer as we’re getting off the plane. They’re just run-of-the-mill airline passengers who are very patriotic. To have them stop and wait for us ... I use the word neat – it’s far more than that.
Q. | How does Veterans Day coming up remind people to honor every brave individual who served during World War II, and has reached the 80s, if not 90s, in age?
A. | These veterans are finally getting the recognition they have deserved for so long. It goes for all veterans: Every single veteran of every single war deserves nothing but the highest recognition. These World War II veterans are very special, because we’re losing them so quickly. It’s a whole-hearted effort.
Q. | How much funds are raised to orchestrate each Honor Flight round trip, and does the same carrier serve each passage from Myrtle Beach?
A. | A total $60,000 takes care of the entire day. That includes the charter flight, buses, food and US Airways provides our breakfast, and our dinner coming back. And Arby’s provides our lunch; we have a box lunch on the bus. ... It’s US Airways who gives the charters; they have been fantastic. The crew are always so welcoming, and so caring with everybody.
Q. | Is a sixth Myrtle Beach Honor Flight in sight for 2013, and from how far do honorees come to fly?
A. | We hope so. If we do, we’ll probably stay in the May-to-October time frame. That seems to be a good time of year to go up. ... We really would like to do two next year, if we can. ... We’re getting veterans from Charleston, and from North Carolina in the Wilmington area. ... We are definitely reaching beyond the Grand Strand. We’ve had veterans who have relatives living here, but the veterans live somewhere else.
Q. | With your having flown on the first and fourth Honor Flights from Myrtle Beach, and joining the entourage this week, what special moments arise on the return legs? Anybody stir up some singing?
A. | There’s a women who ... has been responsible for getting school groups, family members, friends and people who are associated with Honor Flight to write letters. On the flights back, we have mail call, and every veteran has a hand-stacked pile of letters ... addressed by name, welcoming them home.
We get up and say, “It’s mail call!” We’re handing out all these letters, and they don’t know about this. ... They read those letters, and that is a special time. Nobody’s broken out in song yet; this might be the first.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.