The United States loses more and more of its World War II and Korean War veterans each year, and therefore loses the opportunity to thank them for their sacrifices. The Honor Flight organization strives to change that by taking veterans on a daylong flight to tour of our nation’s war memorials. On Sept. 21, more than 70 veterans received an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by Kentucky Touchstone Energy Cooperatives.
Honor Flight Kentucky Ambassador Jeff Masters serves the organization out of his passion for seeing veterans receive the honor they deserve. Many veterans have never seen the memorials dedicated to their own military service, he said, and Honor Flight Kentucky was founded to provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the brave heroes of our military branches.
After a flight from Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., veterans began viewing monuments and memorials in the area. Their journey included stops at the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. At Arlington, they visited the Women In Military Service for America Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched the Changing of the Guard.
Masters said it was quite moving to watch Henry Ledford, a World War II veteran, participate along with three other veterans in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Ledford also celebrated his 100th birthday the day after the Honor Flight, so it was indeed a momentous weekend for him.
Each service member is accompanied by a “guardian,” which may be the veteran’s child, grandchild or other relative, but may also be an unrelated volunteer. This person keeps the veteran company and provides physical assistance throughout the long and strenuous day.
The veterans and their guardians also toured the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and the Air Force Memorial. Each monument and memorial brought its share of memories and tears to the veterans’ eyes.
Once back at Reagan Airport, the special “Mail Call” tradition took place. Honor Flight Kentucky had spent months organizing and gathering personalized mail written from schoolchildren, family members and friends to each of the veterans. Masters pointed out that the older members of the military had only received “snail mail” while in the service, so they “try to recreate that meaningful moment” for the veterans by giving them sometimes up to 50 handwritten letters of thanks.
Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport was the starting and ending point for this year’s Honor Flight Kentucky.
“They truly turn the airport over to us,” said Masters.
An estimated 1,500 people turned out for the Sept. 21 welcome-home celebration. Veterans enjoyed a redemptive and joyful homecoming to Lexington, complete with colorful signs, applause, handshakes and cheers.
“As important as the trip and the memorials are, the welcome home is what many of them did not get the first time," Masters said. "It’s always very emotional for them to see such an outpouring of love and respect and honor for what they did.”
For more information on past and future Honor Flights, check out the website: www.honorflightky.org. Everyone is encouraged to come to the Blue Grass Airport at the conclusion of an Honor Flight to welcome these veterans with fanfare and cheers. The next and final Honor Flight of 2019 is set to occur on Saturday, Oct. 19, so citizens have one more opportunity this year to show their gratitude to Kentucky veterans.