What started as one Ohio man’s idea to honor WWII veterans has turned into a nationwide movement that has reached Fayette County, Georgia, and donations are being sought to assist.
Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain who also has his private pilot license, conceived the Honor Flight Network. The concept is to enlist the aid of private or commercial pilots and aircraft to fly WWII veterans on a one-day, roundtrip visit to the WWII War Memorial in Washington, D.C. free of charge. The idea was picked up in Fayette County by retired school teacher Gail Sparrow and local resident Mark Buckner and has led to Honor Flight Fayette Foundation, Inc.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Morse started working for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Springfield, Ohio. In 2004 after the WWII War Memorial was completed in Washington, D.C., it became the center of discussion among his WWII veteran patients.
Over time, Morse noticed that many of the veterans who expressed a desire to visit the memorial couldn’t do so because of limited resources or physical limitations. He decided to do something about it. So he asked one of his WWII patients if he could personally fly him to the memorial free of charge. “Mr. Loy broke down and cried,” said Morse. “He said at his age he thought he would never get to see the memorial. He accepted the offer.”
A week later Morse asked a second veteran the same question and got the same answer. He realized that there was a need.
He addressed members of his flying club about the idea of flying veterans to the memorial with two stipulations: it couldn’t cost the veteran and the pilots had to personally escort the veteran at the memorial. Eleven pilots volunteered, and Honor Flight was born.
Honor Flight Fayette kicked off its effort with a sign-up blitz at local Chick-fil-A’s in early December 2007. That first initiative netted 50 veterans and guardians who signed up for the flights. Since the Chick-fil-A signups, the number has grown to 65. Each veteran will be paired with a family member or other volunteer who will pay their own way at a cost of about $350.
“Our goal was to get that first group of veterans signed up for the initial flight,” said Sparrow, whose father was a WWII Navy veteran but passed away before the memorial was built. “The WWII veterans protected my freedom and my way of life, and now it’s my time to say thank you for what they’ve done.”
It is estimated that as many as 1,200 WWII veterans are passing away each day across the nation. Fayette County has a high percentage of retired or former service men and women who were in WWII. This program is expected to generate many requests, so organizers are seeking donations.
Sparrow emphasized that they are not accepting any money from the veterans, but she and fellow organizers feel that Fayette County is populated by generous citizens who have the resources to help show appreciation for what these veterans did for our nation.
“As a 501 c (3) we are able to accept donations that are 100 percent tax deductible,” said Sparrow. She emphasized that donations can also be made in honor of or in memory of individuals.
Donors can make tax deductible donations to Honor Flight of Fayette, Inc.
“This trip will probably be their “last hurrah,” the last time they will be recognized as heroes and conquering victors that collectively and literally saved the world,” said Honor Flight founder Morse. “All day long at the WWII monument they will be thanked, recognized and admired for their service. These veterans will remember the kindness and adoration shown to them for the rest of their lives. They will all have a deeper appreciation for how much their country loves them and will miss them.”
For more information about Honor Flight Fayette, visit website http://www.honorflightfayette.org/ or call Mark Buckner at 770-231-6708. For information on the national program visit http://www.honorflight.org/.