WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Honor Flight Dayton has been grounded for nearly two-and-a-half years due to COVID-19 restrictions, but that all ends Aug. 27 when the flight for veterans takes off again.
The first trip out of Dayton International Airport will carry five World War II, 10 Korea and 90 Vietnam veterans to see their respective national memorials in Washington.
Diana Pry, a deputy program executive officer at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and vice president of Honor Flight Dayton, has seen firsthand why these flights are so important to not only the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base community, but all veterans involved.
“It has been said by many of the veterans who participate in HFD that this is the ‘best day of my life besides my wedding day or birth of my children,’” Pry said. “Emotions are high during the day, especially for our Vietnam veterans, who in most all cases did not receive the ‘welcome home’ we now give our veterans.”
HFD’s mission is to take veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War to see their national memorials in Washington. Honor Flight is a free daylong affair for veterans and has been called a “life-changing experience” by those who got the opportunity to participate, organizers say. Veterans receive the royal treatment and “thank you for your service” acknowledgments throughout the day.
William Brown, a veteran who served with the 17th Bomber Wing as an aircraft and missile electrical repairman, said he’s “privileged” to get an opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for the first time.
“I feel very honored to be able to go on the Honor Flight,” he said. “Seeing the Vietnam Memorial and looking for names of some of my old friends is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and the Honor Flight has given me that privilege.”
During Vietnam, Mike Yeager was a seaman gunner’s mate aboard the USS Hugh Purvis. He says visiting Washington with other veterans will offer a different perspective.
“I look forward to seeing the memorials I’ve never seen,” he added. “This will not be like going with your family — going with other veterans who have seen the same things you have will be a whole different type of experience.”
Those taking part in the Aug. 27 flight will begin their day at 4 a.m. at the Dayton airport to start their journey to Washington and come home that same night around 10 p.m.
“It is very emotional to watch veterans at the Vietnam wall, where many of their friends’ names are etched,” Pry said. “It’s also a beautiful experience to see veterans who don’t know each other bond over common experiences.”
Upon arrival back home, veterans are welcomed and cheered on by civilians and military members as they step off the plane.
“We want to cheer for the veterans, thank them and make sure that they know we appreciate their dedication and sacrifices that they gave for our country,” Pry said. “Remember, many of the veterans returned home with very little fanfare or thanks for their service.”
Many veterans are shocked by the number of people at the gate, she added. What used to be a mere 20 people has grown to hundreds waiting to welcome them back.
HFD is solely run by volunteers. The team is responsible for scheduling flights, buses, food for the day and contacting veterans for the trips. Eight medical personnel also accompany the veterans on each trip.
The organization also has more than 200 volunteers who help out at such events as fundraising, flight preparation, day-of-flight assistance and many other tasks.
Kelley Cox, a financial specialist at Air Force Material Command and Honor Flight Dayton’s treasurer, has been a volunteer since 2011 when she started as a tribute to her grandfather, who was in World War II.
“The trips do require a lot of time to put together, but I like to refer to it as a labor of love,” Cox said. “There is nothing better than knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, and that is exactly what these trips do for these veterans.”
The national Honor Flight Network has escorted over 250,000 veterans to their national memorials in Washington since it began in 2005.
Though the mission may be a simple one, it has a huge impact on those who get to take part in it, organizers said.
A veteran reached out to Pry after one of the flights to tell her to thank the Honor Flight as he now feels a “little bit of peace” after the trip and with the recognition he and other veterans received, she said.
The community can come out and welcome the veterans home on the night of Aug. 27 and again Oct. 15. WPAFB service members are encouraged to wear their uniforms.
For more information, visit www.honorflightdayton.org or search “Honor Flight Dayton” Facebook page: Honor Flight Dayton for more information about Honor Flight Dayton.