Honor Flight program gets World War II vets to D.C. memorial
November 17, 2009
By Chantelle Lusebrink
As the ceremonies of Veterans Day fade, one local man is hoping to keep that spirit alive through the rest of the year by launching the Freedom Fighters Honor Flight program.
The national program flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the national World War II memorial. The newly formed Puget Sound area chapter will fly its first veterans there March 22 and 23.
“They served our country and it’s a way for us to say thanks and that we didn’t forget,” said David Waggoner, a retired lieutenant colonel who served with the Army in Vietnam and who is commander for Issaquah’s Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost.
He knows all too well what seeing that memorial means, after being drafted and serving in Vietnam and losing many men and friends.“You see the names there of people you served with, especially those that were killed,” he said. “It’s like you’re seeing them in the memorial, like it was yesterday. It’s something you never forget. For these guys to see this memorial, to see those faces, it’s important.”
Today, the organization and national statistics estimate that more than 1,000 World War II veterans are dying each day because of their age. World War II veterans are now well into their 70s and beyond their traveling years. Unlike generations after them who fought in Vietnam and Korea, their wall was only recently completed in 2004.
“Though we’re losing so many, there are still a lot out there,” Waggoner said. “That is why this is so important.”
The Freedom Fighters Honor Flight program was created in 2005 in Ohio by retired Air Force captain and physicians assistant Earl Morse, according to the program’s national Web site.
Working as a physician’s assistant for 27 years, Morse cared for many Springfield area veterans before retiring in 1998. After, the Department of Veterans Affairs hired him. To honor the veterans he’d taken care of, he wanted to take them to the World War II memorial.
It wasn’t until last spring, though, that Waggoner learned of the program after U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert mentioned it at a local veterans’ function.
“I told him I’d do whatever I could do to help and I climbed on board,” Waggoner said.
Since, Waggoner was appointed to the newly formed chapter of Freedom Fighters Honor Flight board of directors, based in Mercer Island.
“Some folks say this is a political thing, but it has nothing to do with politics,” Waggoner said. “This doesn’t have to do with Democrats or Republicans, independents or any other political party. We’re doing this for the veterans, any World War II veteran that may not otherwise have the opportunity to see the memorial, to see it. Especially, at their age and what they’ve given, they should have that opportunity.”
The veterans will travel on Alaska Airlines, since the airline has the only nonstop service from Seattle to Washington, D.C., Waggoner said. They’ll spend one day traveling and settling at their hotel and the next day visiting the memorial, touring the city on a charter bus and flying back in the evening.
There is room for 33 veterans from the greater Puget Sound area on the first trip, Waggoner said. For every three veterans, there will be one volunteer assistant who pays his or her own way. A doctor and respiratory therapist will also volunteer their services for the trip, in case something happens, Waggoner said.
In all, the trip costs $1,000 per veteran, including transportation and hotel, he added.
Families of veterans or veterans themselves can apply for them to go. Veterans must not be confined to a wheel chair, per Federal Aviation Association regulations, and must be in fairly good health. Family members are also invited to come as volunteer companions.
“I want to get my uncle back there,” he said, adding his father and two uncles each served in World War II, but only his 82-year-old uncle is still alive. “I would love nothing more than to be his assistant for that trip and be there with him.”
Recently, Waggoner has been presenting the information to local groups, like the Issaquah Grange, in hopes of getting funding for the trips.
“The memorial was finished after most people in my dad’s generation stopped traveling,” said Grange member Jo Ann Anderson, whose father served in World War II.
“We’re losing about 1,500 World War II veterans a day now. That is a large number. They are leaving us. They had it rough and didn’t know they had it rough. They didn’t know about post traumatic stress syndrome. They just came home and went on with life, built homes and had kids and were a part of this country,” she said. “That is why we want to make an effort for them to get to see it now.”
Waggoner is hoping in coming weeks and months to ask for funding from other groups, like the Rotary Club of Issaquah, Kiwanis Club of Issaquah and other service organizations.
He’s also hoping local schools may want to contribute.
“A school in Spokane raised more than $2,600 in a penny drive. That’s enough for two veterans,” he said. “I would love to challenge our schools to help remember our veterans in this way.”
Donate to Freedom Fighters Honor Flight
P.O. Box 1688
Mercer Island, WA 98040
Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.