Bert Cassels of Pawleys Island recalls that he did not know much about Honor Flight when he first learned of the program dedicated to taking World War II veterans to see their memorial on the National Mall in Washington. Cassels, a retired naval officer, knew plenty about the contributions of the 19 million men and women who served in various branches of the military, including the Merchant Marines; he learned about Honor Flight from a PBS program. “We owe them a lot,” Cassels says of all those who served in WWII.
Cassels contacted Bill Dukes of Columbia, who started Honor Flights there, and Cassels inquired about the possibility of flights from Myrtle Beach. “I’m glad you volunteered,” was the next thing Cassels heard, he said the other day when talking about Honor Flight Myrtle Beach to the Rotary Club of Little River. Cassels’ phone conversation with Dukes was in late 2009 or early 2010. Soon Cassels and his wife Gigi were building a group of volunteers. “People really wanted to pitch in. By February or March we were well under way.”
Walter Kollet read about the Cassels’ efforts in the Heritage Plantation community newsletter. Kollet and his wife Angela now lead the volunteers who are organizing the sixth trip from Myrtle Beach on Aug. 28. On the five flights so far, beginning in November 2010, Honor Flight MB has taken 464 WWII veterans to Washington, where they visit the World War II Memorial and others such as the Iwo Jima Memorial (based on the epic flag-raising on Mount Suribachi) and Arlington National Cemetery.
It’s a long, emotional day. At Reagan National Airport, veterans are greeted royally, perhaps receiving the sort of recognition they missed after WWII when they and returned and quickly resumed their civilian lives. Then, on their return to Myrtle Beach, they receive a rousing welcome home that surely does our area proud. High school JROTC students, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Rolling Thunder, Knights of Columbus honor guard, are among the many groups that welcome home the veterans.
The difficulty in finding WWII veterans is one reason Kollet plans on one 2013 trip in August. In 2012 and 2011, Honor Flight had two trips. Cassels and Kollet note that some WWII vets mistakenly feel Honor Flight wants those who carried rifles, manned Navy ships or flew warplanes in Europe or the Pacific. Actually, any service, including the Merchant Marine, through the year 1946 makes one eligible for Honor Flight. WWII officially ended Dec. 31, 1946, although hostilities ceased in 1945. Germany surrendered May 8; Japan stopped fighting after atom bombs were dropped in August; the formal surrender was signed Sept. 2.
Honor Flight operates across the United States. In addition to Myrtle Beach and Columbia, South Carolina has Lowcountry (Charleston) and Upstate (Greenville-Spartanburg) chapters. Some are accepting applications from Korean and Vietnam veterans. Kollet says the number of veterans in Horry and Georgetown counties suggests there are many WWII veterans here who have not been on an Honor Flight trip. Cassels and Kollet are unabashed in seeking help in locating WWII vets, men and woman. You may know a neighbor or perhaps someone at church who served during WWII. Ask about their service and put them in touch with Honor Flight.