World War II veterans are hopping flights to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial built in their honor, thanks to the efforts of Honor Flight Northwest Ohio.
The non-profit organization, formed in 2007, offers a free flight and accommodations for the one day trip, which includes bus service to the memorial, meals and beverages.
So far, the organization has flown over 462 veterans on 17 flights to see the memorial in the nation’s capital.
Honor Flight Northwest Ohio is on a mission to get as many veterans who are interested in visiting the memorial to Washington, D.C., before time runs out. On average, over 1,200 WWII veterans die every day.
“The youngest World War II vet is about 83-years-old,” said Marti Franco, community outreach director for Honor Flight Northwest Ohio. There are usually five flights planned each year, though there could be a sixth scheduled this year if donations allow it.
This year, the organization will be able to take more veterans than before because of the use of larger aircraft.
“We used to charter 50-seat aircraft. This year, we’ll have a larger plane that can take 160. So we’re really pleased about that,” said Franco.
Eligible World War II veterans are from northwest Ohio and just over the border in Michigan, she said.
Veterans who don’t have someone to take them to the Grand Aire hangar, next to Toledo Express Airport in Swanton, will be picked up by a driver, she said.
“Veterans show up between 6 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. to take off from Grand Aire, and we don’t get back until 8:30 p.m.,” said Franco. Veterans get “goodie bags” filled with a pictorial book about the memorial, letters from area schools children, and other items.
“In the morning, they’re all given a disposable camera, an Honor Flight T-shirt and hat,” she said. “They also get hand cleaners, tissue, bottled water and a pack of gum.”
They are served breakfast at the hangar before boarding the jet to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. Upon landing, veterans board a motor coach, which takes them to the World War II memorial. Afterwards, they are provided with lunch near the memorial.
“Then they’re able to see the Korean, Vietnam and Lincoln memorials before they get back onto the coach,” said Franco.
Before boarding the plane home, the coach takes them on a mini-tour of Washington, D.C., she said, including a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where they watch the changing of the guard. Afterwards, they head back to Dulles.
In the evening, a ceremony takes place that includes music from the Genoa American Legion Band.
“It’s quite an eventful day, and it’s very long,” said Franco. “But I’ve never seen a vet get off the plane that did not enjoy it. It’s like they’ve seen the fountain of youth.”
So that veterans can take the trip for free, Honor Flight Northwest Ohio relies on donations from corporate and individual sponsors to pay for the flights and accommodations, which cost $400 per veteran. The public can donate to the program on Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio’s Web site at http://honorflightnwo.org. Donations can also be mailed to Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, P.O. Box 23018, Toledo, OH, 43623.
Many veterans are unable to find a caretaker to accompany them on their trip. Honor Flight provides each veteran with trained guardians, who are local volunteers, to escort them to and from Washington, D.C., and to assist them throughout the day. Guardians have to pay for their own fare, which is also $400.
Guardians must be in good health, and be able to lift up to 50 lbs., push wheelchairs on and off buses and push wheelchairs around all day. They also must be able to bend over to tie shoes or pick up items for veterans and must have no difficulty twisting in order to help veterans in and out of their wheelchairs throughout the day.
Franco said Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio is particularly thankful for guardians that are medical personnel.
“We really appreciate all medical guardians,” said Franco. “And EMTs and paramedics are among our favorites. We’ve had nurses and doctors, occupational and physical therapists, and physicians’ assistants.”
This year, the group is focusing more on using medical personnel as guardians, said Franco.
“We are stressing more medical use of guardians than ever before,” she said.
Franco herself has been a guardian, which she calls a rewarding experience.
“I had the privilege of being guardian for a female Marine veteran, who was 90-years-old. She probably could out-pace me. She was phenomenal,” said Franco.
The first flight this year is April 13, followed flights on May 18, June 22, Aug. 31, and Sept. 23. “We may have a flight in October, assuming we have donations continuing to come in,” said Franco.
The minimum age for a guardian is 18-years-old, and the age limit is 60-years-old, though those near or over 60 will be considered on a case by case basis. Applications for veterans and guardians to participate in the program can also be found on Honor Flight’s Web site at http://honorflightnwo.org.
Oregon Assistant Chief Paul Mullen applied to be a guardian for the first time this year. His first flight is on April 13. Mullen, who is a firefighter and paramedic, paid for the trip out of his own pocket. He is hoping to get individual or corporate donations to pay for the next four trips he will make as a guardian, an amount that totals $1,600.
“I found out about it from a couple firefighters in Lucas County,” said Mullen. “I got in line, and basically, Honor Flight told me that this year, they’re going to have so many flights, and they need more guardians.”
In addition to being a paramedic, Mullen said he has also worked part-time for an air ambulance company in Michigan. “I’ve done a lot of medicine and aircraft. I’m more than happy to help Honor Flight,” he said.
Donations given to Mullen in excess of $1,600 will be forwarded to Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, he said.
To make a donation to Mullen, mail checks made out to Mullen to his address at 4460 Brown Road, Oregon, Ohio.
For more information on Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, visit their Web site, or contact Franco at 419-382-3569, or Lee Armstrong, president, at 419-410-7729.