I recently came back from an Honor Fight to Washington D. C. with veterans of WWI. The average age is 92 or 93. What is Honor Flight? All WWII veterans are given a free trip from 133 hubs throughout the United States, two of which are in Arizona – Tucson and Phoenix, to see their WWII Memorial. In Arizona they leave from Phoenix on three day trips. All WWII veterans, no matter what physical shape they are in, may take this trip since wheel chairs are provided. Those needing oxygen or other medical problems are handled by either a doctor or a certified medical technician that stays with the group the whole time.
The memorial was built in 2005 and by that time many of our greatest generation had passed but many people in the U.S. said we must take those we can since the time we still have is short. The Honor Flights in Arizona were started by Susan Howe of Prescott in 2008 and she is coordinating for the Phoenix hub. Guardians are assigned to each veteran from the moment we left. Guardians are persons who volunteer and pay their own way. Southwest Airlines is a great partner to the Honor Flight Arizona and provides airfare at a much discounted rate for over 40 flights and 1,000 veterans that have visited the memorial from Phoenix.
As we left Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, I had my first laughing moment as one of the veterans I accompanied was walking through many clapping passengers awaiting their flights. I asked him why he wasn’t smiling and he said he really was because he ate this stuff up. That wasn’t the actual words he used but close enough.
The vets and those with them are the first on the flight and the last off in Baltimore where a large group meets every flight and takes care of the baggage and all other incidentals. At arrival at the Baltimore Hilton the baggage and veterans were taken to their rooms. Soon afterwards a dinner was served and many retired.
The second day of Honor Flight is very busy for all the WWII veterans. It starts after breakfast with a trip by bus to the nation’s capitol. A docent led tour of the Capitol Building followed after the group was broken up into small groups. After a box lunch on the bus the group arrived at the WWII Memorial at noon. Because of the cold weather in the high ‘30s and low ‘40s, we were back on the bus for a short ride to the Vietnam, Lincoln and Korean War Memorials. After boarding the bus again for the Marine Memorial we went on to Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the 5:00 p.m. change ceremony. Then on to dinner at Ft. Myer at a catering facility they have on this large base. We arrived back at the Baltimore Hilton at 8:30 p.m.
The third day we boarded our bus for Ft. McHenry made famous by Francis Scott Key when he wrote our National Anthem. The veterans in wheel chairs lined up outside after seeing a film at the visitor center and everyone else lined up facing them. At this time a docent started taking out the largest flag I had ever seen. It was the size of the flag flown at the fort to let the British know there would never be a surrender. It took at least 20 people to unroll this flag which had cost $405 in 1814 to make, an enormous sum in those days. I was very moved by this fort and was really impressed by the fact that during WWII it was manned by the U.S. Coast Guard. At the Baltimore airport we were again handled by TSA agents with care and were provided our own line to clear inspection. I want to thank the many people who helped. They took care of veterans from 85-94. The youngest, Clyde Brandt, 85, who enlisted under age; and George Markwardt, 94.
Why I have written this article. What it will take to get all these WWII vets to their memorial in Washington D.C. is a contribution. Please send to Honor Flight Arizona. P.O. Box 12258, Prescott, AZ 86304. Attend a fund raiser by Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Scottsdale. They are having a fund raiser from 5:00-8:00 p.m. on May 7 at McDowell Mountain Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale; $25 in advance or $30 at door. For details call Pat Mazzarella at 602-989-7254 or [email protected]
There are still many WWII Veterans in Arizona waiting. If you know of a WWII veteran that would like to make this trip please contact Honor Flight Arizona as soon as possible or call Art Sloane at 480-802-6810 or [email protected]