More than 150 WWII Veterans and guardians visited the World War II Memorial in April with Honor Flight of West Central Florida. Guardians and donations are now needed to sponsor veterans for the next trip in June.
Taking a trip with Honor Flight of West Central Florida gives everyday citizens a chance to interact, engage and get to know members of our countries’ greatest generation. This life-changing trip pairs interested citizens as guardians for a day trip to Washington D.C. with World War II Veterans with the express purpose of honoring them at their World War II Memorial.
Honor Flight of West Central Florida (HFWCF) was established in late 2010 as an official Regional Hub of the National Honor Flight Network. As part of the Network, HFWCF provides all-expense-paid flights for World War II Veterans in the Tampa Bay area to visit their memorials in Washington, D.C.
Recently, six local residents including myself, Paul and Tammy Holmberg, Rob Silver, Danny Whitehurst and Carole McLemore, had the opportunity to sign up as members of the Honor Flight trip from Clearwater/St. Petersburg International Airport to Washington D.C. and back in one day.
A typical Honor Flight experience includes the opportunity for citizens to meet their veterans at an orientation event, held at the Suncoast Hospice in Clearwater. After meeting, the entire group of 150 people is walked through expectations for the day. The purpose of the guardians is to escort, assist and experience the event with their veteran.
Although family members are welcome, veterans are encouraged to be paired with a new guardian for the day.
After the orientation, volunteers and veterans meet again the day of the flight. The morning starts early at 5 a.m. for check-in and personal escort through security.
Upon arrival in Washington, D.C. veterans are typically honored by the public and military representatives who are on hand at the airport to welcome them to the city. Charter buses await, and veterans and guardians are escorted to a VIP experience through the city. First stop, Iwo Jima Memorial where a group photo is typically taken. The group then stops at the WWII memorial before continuing on to Korea, Vietnam and Lincoln memorials before a return trip by bus to the airport to return home.
Although a busy day, it is typically a once in a lifetime experience for the vets.
At the memorials, Vets are surrounded by families and the general public, who take time to stop them to thank them for their service.
“It is truly a rewarding experience to take an Honor Flight and see it through the eyes of a real Veteran,” said Paul Holmberg who escorted his veteran Earl ‘Mac’ MacDermott.
Guardians pay $400 for the privilege of escorting a veteran which covers costs of flight. All other expenses including meals, shirts etc. are donated.
HFWCF has taken five flights in two years. More than 350 veterans have had the chance to attend the trip with another 400 on the waiting list eager to go.
“We are losing our WWII vets at a rate of 1,000 per day in America,” said organizer and volunteer James W. Haake, LTC, USA (Ret.) “We would like to be able to take them all.”
Honor Flight Mission Six is now seeking donations for its next flight, which is scheduled for Tuesday, June 12. For this flight, another 74 Veterans have been selected. The flight will be chartered by Allegiant Airlines.
To volunteer, get involved or donate, visit www.honorflightwcf.org or contact Haake directly at 413-1014. Honor Flight of WCF is a 501(C)3.