One of the World War II veterans who participated in the October 2012 Honor Flight to Washington was recruited at a Garden City Beach supermarket.
“I plucked a man out of Kroger and he was on the flight,” says Honor Flight volunteer Bill Krzyk, who spotted the shoppers WWII hat. Krzyk struck up a conversation and knew he had a candidate for the fifth trip from Myrtle Beach to the nation’s capital.
Finding WWII veterans has become one of the biggest challenges for the dedicated volunteers who make the flights happen. Walter Kollet, chairman of Honor Flight Myrtle Beach, has that in mind in booking the sixth area flight for Aug. 28.
“I don’t want to fly with an empty seat,” he says. On the October 2012 trip, “we were right up to the last minutes’’ filling all available seats. “Since November 2010, we’ve transported 464 [WWII] veterans” to see their memorial.
One-day trips were made in May and October of 2011 and 2012. Participants, including WWII vets, guardians, volunteers and a medical team, visit several other places including the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
The veterans are welcomed home with a grand reception at Myrtle Beach International Airport. Veterans and guardians in the last rows on the October flight were curious at the delay in disembarking. The welcoming throng stretched from the General Aviation Terminal to the stairway at the plane, slowing the pace as veterans started through the line of greeters. A guardian who had been on previous flights said it was the largest welcoming crowd he had seen.
For both 2012 flights, Honor Flight expanded its area to Florence and Charleston and up to Wilmington, N.C. Information is sent to 40 American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in 10 South and North Carolina counties as well as to the Veterans Affairs service offices, such as the one in Conway.
Horry County Veterans service officer Wendell Allen is a huge fan of Honor Flight. “I love it -- it’s awesome.” His office distributes information about Honor Flight but cannot identify veterans because of confidentiality. Allen says the Legion and VFW posts, Disabled American Veterans and nursing homes are the best places to recruit, as he does for veterans services.
Once identified, some WWII vets don’t want to fly. Some members of the Greatest Generation perhaps have never flown. “One vet said ‘no, I’m too old to fly,’’’ Allen recalls. Honor Flights typically include a lot of applauding and cheering, and that is done “to relieve the anxiety.”
Other WWII vets expressed a reluctance to go because they didn’t serve overseas, Kollet says. “A lot of people [in various military services] were in the states and contributed” to the war effort. “That includes the Merchant Marines.” Occupation forces are also eligible -- anyone who entered military service by Dec. 31, 1946.
So the search is on for finding veterans of WWII. Ask your friends, neighbors and relatives if they know a veteran of WWII. Ask about Honor Flight. And in the mall or grocery store, watch for the older guy wearing a WWII hat.