Honor Flight takes to the air April 19

Westside Eagle-Observer - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Eck­els meck­els@nwadg.com

DE­CATUR — Jour­nal­ists and his­to­ri­ans of­ten re­fer to those Amer­i­cans who lived through the Great De­pres­sion in the 1930s and through World War II as the “Great­est Gen­er­a­tion.” Sev­eral veter­ans of that gen­er­a­tion liv­ing in Arkansas and Ok­la­homa, along with their com­rades in arms from the Korean and Viet­nam con­flicts, will travel to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., April 19 for a day-long tour of the memo­ri­als ded­i­cated to those who served in our na­tion’s mil­i­tary.

From 1941-45, 16 mil­lion Amer­i­can men and women served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Army Air Corps, Coast Guard and Mer­chant Marines dur­ing World War II, of which 407,500 were killed in ac­tion. Of that 16 mil­lion ser­vice per­son­nel (many now in their 80s and 90s), an es­ti­mated 620,000 are still alive. But that num­ber is dwin­dling at an av­er­age rate of 1,000 deaths per day. It is es­ti­mated that by the year 2020, the last of the “Great­est Gen­er­a­tion” will pass into the his­tory books.

Honor Flight was founded in 2005 as a way to re­mem­ber those World War II veter­ans by fly­ing them to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to visit the WWII me­mo­rial. For many, this trip of­fered a sense of clo­sure and a way of re­mem­ber­ing those who sac­ri­ficed their lives in the name of free­dom.

On April 20, 2016, the 11th year of the project, 74 veter­ans from WWII, Korea and Viet­nam, along with their guardians, de­parted North­west Arkansas Re­gional Air­port (XNA) en­route to the na­tional’s capi­tol. Upon ar­rival, the group was met by sev­eral Arkansas Con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives and pre­sented with a com­mem­o­ra­tive coin. Af­ter a brief cer­e­mony, the veter­ans and their guardians be­gan the day-long tour of the memo­ri­als ded­i­cated to those who served in five mil­i­tary con­flicts. Upon their re­turn, more than 300 well wish­ers crowded the lobby of XNA for a home­com­ing like no other.

The 12th an­nual A&O Honor Flight is set to de­part from XNA at 7 a.m. April 19. This is a huge un­der­tak­ing for event or­ga­niz­ers. One of the big­gest chal­lenges is se­cur­ing enough money to pay for it.

“This is a very large fi­nan­cial un­der­tak­ing and we are seek­ing cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships … to as­sist in send­ing veter­ans to Wash­ing­ton, DC. Ex­penses to make this flight (in­clude the fol­low­ing): char­tered plane, $60,000; three buses in Ok­la­homa and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., $5,500; D.C. Po­lice es­cort, $1,500; shirts, $2,000, food in Ok­la­homa and D.C., $5,500. With other es­sen­tials that will arise, the ap­prox­i­mate cost for one flight is $80,000,” ac­cord­ing to O&A Honor Flight.

Sev­enty-nine veter­ans from WWII, Korea and Viet­nam from North­west Arkansas and North­east Ok­la­homa are sched­uled to make this year’s flight. They will be ac­com­pa­nied by 81 guardians, vol­un­teers and staff to help meet each vet­eran’s needs.

Fes­tiv­i­ties be­gin with a 6 p.m. re­cep­tion at the Chero­kee Casino in­West Siloam Springs on April 18. The Honor Flight de­parts XNA at around 7 a.m. April 19 and will re­turn be­tween 9 and 11 p.m., de­pend­ing on weather con­di­tions.

The pub­lic is en­cour­aged to at­tend the wel­come-home cer­e­mony in the lobby of XNA. For in­for­ma­tion, call Rob Hop­kins at 479-752-7203.

Photo by Mike Eck­els

A Viet­nam War vet­eran (far left) salutes a com­rade in arms from the Korean Con­flict in one of the touch­ing mo­ments of the wel­come home cer­e­mony for the 2016 Honor Flight at North­west Arkansas Re­gional Air­port in High­fill April 20, 2016.

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