Honor Flight Lowcountry serves vets

  • Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Honor Flight Lowcountry guardian Mac Williams. PHOTOS PROVIDED


More often than not, veterans from all eras are not recognized like they should be. And sadly, the greatest generation veterans of WWII are dying off at a rate of 1,000 per day.

In an effort to do all they can for these surviving veterans, Honor Flight Lowcountry, a group of volunteer individuals dedicated to helping WWII veterans from the Lowcountry area up to Washington, D.C., has planned an honor flight for September 6. Along with a volunteer guardian, WWII veterans are invited to visit the memorial which was built in their honor in Washington.

Honor Flight Lowcountry is an independent chapter of Honor Flight Network, which was founded in 2005 with the goal of flying as many veterans from around the country to the WWII Memorial as possible.

Today, Honor Flight Lowcountry’s mission is to fulfill the dream of visiting the memorial for as many veterans from the Lowcountry of South Carolina as possible. Their first flight from Charleston was Nov. 7, 2009 and it was a huge success.

Willson M. Williams, known as “Mac,” has been a guardian on previous flights. His neighbor Melvin Price, a WWII veteran, was an honoree on a previous flight.

They’ve set out to spread the word about the upcoming flight, knowing that there are numerous veterans from the area that deserve the chance to be recognized.

And due to the alarming rate at which WWII veterans are dying off, Honor Flight Lowcountry is actively seeking Korean War veterans and terminally ill or frail veterans of any conflict to ensure as many veterans get this opportunity as possible.

History of Honor Flight

The inaugural Honor Flight Tour took place in May of 2005. Six small planes flew out of Springfield, Ohio, taking 12 World War II veterans on a visit to the memorial in Washington, D.C. In August of 2005, an ever-expanding waiting list of veterans led the transition to commercial airline carriers with the goal of accommodating as many veterans as possible. Partnering with HonorAir in Hendersonville, North Carolina, volunteers formed the “Honor Flight Network.” Today, they continue working aggressively to expand their programs to other cities across the nation.

The Honor Flight Network program was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain. Morse wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for the past 27 years. After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Morse was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. In May of 2004, the World War II Memorial was finally completed and dedicated in Washington, D.C. and quickly became the topic of discussion among his World War II veteran patients.

Morse repeatedly asked these veterans if they would ever travel out to visit their memorial. Most felt that eventually, somehow, they would make it to D.C., perhaps with a family member or friend.

As summer turned to fall and then winter, these same veterans returned to the clinic for their follow-up visits. Morse asked if they accomplished their dream of visiting the World War II Memorial. By now, for most of the veterans he asked, reality had settled in; it was clear to most that it simply wasn’t financially or physically possible for them to make the journey. Most of these senior heroes were in their 80s and lacked the physical and mental wherewithal to complete the trip on their own. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time to complete the three- to four-day trip to the nation’s capital.

Morse decided that there had to be a way to get these heroes to D.C. to see their memorial.

In addition to being a physician assistant, Earl was also a private pilot and a member of one of our nation’s largest and best aero clubs located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

In December of 2004, Morse asked one of his World War II veteran patients if it would be all right if he personally flew him out to D.C., free of charge, to visit his memorial. He graciously accepted the offer.

Morse realized that there were many veterans who would have the same reaction. So, he started asking for help from other pilots to make these dreams a reality. In January of 2005, Earl addressed about 150 members of the aero club during a safety meeting, outlining a volunteer program to fly veterans to their memorial.

There were two major stipulations to his request. The first was that the veterans pay nothing. The entire aircraft rental ($600 to $1,200 for the day) would have to be paid solely by the pilots. The second was that the pilots personally escort the veterans around D.C. for the entire day.

Eleven pilots who had never met Earl’s patients stepped up to volunteer. And Honor Flight was born.

Honor Flight Lowcountry

Price, one of the youngest surviving WWII veterans, said that words cannot express or describe the experience. The fact that people spend so much time and money to make sure veterans are recognized is beyond comprehension, he explained.

When Williams went as a guardian, he was in charge of three veterans. His own father was a WWII veteran and passed away tragically in a car accident at the age of 46. Williams volunteered as a way to honor his father’s service.

“This effort is so important,” he said, “because these are veterans, many of whom have never received recognition for their service and what they went through. To see them visiting their memorial and the receptions at both airports is just indescribable.”

The trip is absolutely free for the veteran.

Those who cannot endure the 12-hour experience can view the memorials from the buses that provide transportation while in Washington. Wheelchairs are provided and a doctor and nurses are onboard and available during the entire trip.

An assigned guardian never lets their veteran out of their sight and roll call is conducted after every stop.

Flights leave out of Charleston and are direct.

The day starts early at 4 a.m. where check-in occurs at the airport. The veterans are treated to a continental breakfast in a hospitality room.

Most flights land at Reagan International Airport where the veterans are received by thousands waving flags and clapping.

Fire trucks lined along the tarmac shoot water cannons in their honor.

The gate is packed with scouts, ROTC units, military men and women and choral groups. There is not a dry eye in the room, Williams said.

The veterans are then taken to the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Iwo Jima Memorial. They arrive back in Charleston around 7 p.m. and are treated to more of the same.

The Knights of Columbus form a saber arch. Citadel cadets are on hand. Veterans receive a personal escort by TSA agents. Roses are handed to each veteran as friends and family cheer them on. Bagpipers lead them through the airport.

“There’s nothing else quite like it,” Price said.

Many details are finalized closer to each flight. Honor Flight Lowcountry organizers must determine the level of interest and ensure a proper number of volunteers and guardians before a flight is confirmed. Guardians are volunteers and must pay $500 to participate.

For more information about becoming a guardian, donating to the effort or registering a veteran, visit the website at www.honorflightlowcountry.com or call 843-906-0399.

Applications can be downloaded from the website and mailed to Honor Flight Lowcountry at PO BOX 12308, Charleston, South Carolina 29422.

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