News>Feature - In the dawns early light: Honor Flight connects past with present
Col. Robert Pavelko, 45th Space Wing vice commander, gives an Honor Flight coin to retired U.S. Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Kenneth Clark, at the Honor Flight departure in Melbourne, Fla. April 12. Team Patrick-Cape volunteers were in attendance and met with World War II and Korean War veterans prior to flying to Washington D.C. to tour the U.S. Air Force Memorial, war memorials, and Arlington Cemetery, as part of the Honor Flight program. (Courtesy photo/Lou Seiler Jr.)
(Left) Debbie Gasaway, and Heidi Hunt, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs specialist, greet veterans at the World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C., in conjunction with members of Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Oct. 19, 2013. Military and civilian volunteers from the local area attend each ceremony in support of the Honor Flight Program. (Courtesy photo)
by Capt. Erin Dorrance
45th Space Wing Public Affairs
4/23/2014 - PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Imagine being 93 years old and still doing more by 9 a.m. than most people do all day. That phrase has long been a military motto; and is as true now as ever.
Local World War II and Korean War veterans headed off to Washington D.C. in true hero fashion, as part of the Honor Flight program, where a crowd of roaring military personnel, volunteers, elected officials and family members sent them off in the early morning hours April 12.
"I'm excited to make the trip," said retired Navy Chief Aviation Machinist Mate I Clarence "Bud" Lane, who served in the Navy from 1941 to 1946. "But more importantly, I will spend the day remembering all of the people who didn't make it back."
Lane was just one of 25 veterans who participated in the 20th trip organized and planned by the Space Coast Honor Flight chapter. The Honor Flight program was conceived by retired Air Force Capt. Earl Morse, who was surprised that many WWII veterans had never been to Washington D.C. to see their war memorial. Morse took the first Honor Flight participants from Ohio in May of 2005, and since then, the program has seen tremendous growth throughout the United States.
The day begins at 2 a.m. when attendees report for duty, followed by a pep rally that motivates the crowd before they board a bus at 4 a.m. headed to Orlando International Airport. On this trip there were 21 WWII veterans, four Korean War veterans, and one female veteran on the flight. The oldest veteran was 93 years old, according to retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Bill Welser, Space Coast Honor Flight group president.
The flight landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to a receiving line of supporters who waved flags and hand-made signs welcoming the veterans to their nation's capital. Veterans toured the U.S. Air Force Memorial, war memorials, and Arlington Cemetery. After an emotional day, the veterans returned to a welcome home party at Wickham Park Senior Center in Melbourne, Fla., later that same evening.
"Captain America was released in theaters this weekend, but why go see a movie about a mythical WWII comic book soldier when you can see and meet our nation's real heroes right here," said Col. Robert J. Pavelko, 45th Space Wing vice commander, who addressed the large crowd at the send off event. It is truly a humbling experience to be in a room filled with this much history and I thank each and every one of your for your service."
An estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day. The Honor Flight's goal is to take as many WWII veterans as possible. Subsequent to WWII veterans, the Honor Flight also fills their flights with Korean War, and then Vietnam veterans. There is no cost to the veterans because Honor Flight is a non-profit organization funded by donations.
"Our biggest challenge is finding WWII veterans," Welser said. "Spreading the word helps ensure that we meet our goal of giving every WWII veteran the chance to take an Honor Flight."