CLINTON — The Honor Flight program began more than eight years ago, after Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain, had the idea to thank World War II veterans by taking them to see the memorial built to honor them.
Working in small Department of Veterans clinic in Springfield, Ohio, Morse saw many men who were excited with the completion of the WWII memorial in May 2004. However, many of them did not have the money or ability to go visit Washington, D.C., so Morse worked with people in the aero club he was a member of to fly 12 veterans to the capital. Since that first flight in 2005, more than 100 Honor Flight hubs have formed across the country.
“From California; from North Dakota; wherever,” said Mike Haney, board member of the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, in a Clinton Rotary presentation Monday.
Haney has went on 13 of the 23 flights the chapter has put on, beginning with the second Quad-City flight. Typically he serves as the organizer and leader for the day.
“We have a role when we go,” Board member Cathie Rochau said after the presentation.
The group’s goal is to take as many WWII veterans as it can. Haney said in his presentation that approximately between 1,000 and 1,500 World War II veterans die every day in this country.
While priority is given to World War II veterans, more Korean War veterans have been going lately. Veterans from any war with a terminal disease are also put at the front of the list.
Haney said the organization is willing to continue after all of the WWII and Korean Veterans have gone, moving on to Vietnam veterans. However, Rochau said this could be almost a three-year wait. Honor Flight of the Quad Cities is inviting Vietnam veterans to be guardians for some of the older veterans.
Guardians support the project by paying approximately $500, which help pay for the program. These individuals go through training on what to do as they supervise and escort a veteran on the trip. This includes making sure the veteran does not get dehydrated, what to do if he is injured, and more.
“You’re there to serve the veterans,” Haney said.
Haney said the trip typically rejuvenates the veterans and touches them profoundly. He knows many veterans who never spoke about their time in the war, but started to really open up after visiting the memorials.
Haney and Rochau added that random people seeing the groups in Washington, D.C., will come up to the veterans and shake their hands and thank them. Haney remembers one time when a French tourist asked why the group was there. After being told about the program, he thanked the WWII veterans on behalf of his country.
Next year’s Honor Flights will begin in April. For more information on the program, visit www.honorflightqc.com.