Spotlight

Local veterans receive a hero’s welcome while celebrating 250,000 service members

Honor Flight Arizona takes off again June 7-9

Posted 6/3/22

Local veterans received a “Hail and Farewell” fanfare, aside from federal holidays recognizing military service, as they recently traveled across time zones with Honor Flight Arizona to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C.

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Spotlight

Local veterans receive a hero’s welcome while celebrating 250,000 service members

Honor Flight Arizona takes off again June 7-9

Posted

Local veterans received a “Hail and Farewell” fanfare, aside from federal holidays recognizing military service, as they recently traveled across time zones with Honor Flight Arizona to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C.

If not familiar with military service, terms like “Hail and Farewell” are used for traditions to celebrate those entering and departing a unit/organization during a change in command, any organizational change of event showing honor and thanks for service or to welcome and introduce those joining the ranks.

Likewise, Honor Flight Arizona, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, welcomed local veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to an all-expense paid trip to the war memorials in Washington, D.C., May 2-4.

The organization plans to offer another trip June 7-9, departing from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, which will be the group’s 90th flight.

“Everybody was saying, ‘Welcome back and glad to have you,’” said John Wilhight, 90, describing the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport reception that almost made the “highly-decorated” veteran cry.

Wilhight was on a waiting list and prepared to go before the pandemic. Happy he finally had an opportunity to go on the trip, he was accompanied by his grandson who pushed him in his wheelchair to help him find his best friend’s name listed among more than 30,000 names memorialized on the wall.

For more than two years, the entire national Honor Flight Network was out of service due to the COVID pandemic. Hubs are beginning to fly again, said Honor Flight Arizona board member Rick Hardina, of Scottsdale, adding there are 130 hubs throughout the U.S. that service other states.

“On our trips we have welcomed aboard several 100-years-old veterans. Two 100-year-old veterans were on our May 2-4 flight,” Hardina stated.

“Honor Flight Arizona is very proud to have just returned from a three-day journey to Washington D.C. where it represented the entire national Honor Flight Network in celebrating 250,000 World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans sent to their memorials since 2005. This was truly an epic and memorable journey for all those who participated!”

American Airlines provided Honor Flight Arizona with complimentary travel aboard the 190-seat American Airlines A321 air bus recently christened “Flagship Valor.” Passengers included 100 Arizona veterans, 60 guardians, a six-member medical team, Honor Flight Arizona board members, several guests representing American Airlines and the national Honor Flight Board of Directors, Hardina said.

He noted the following aboard the flight:

  • Two Vietnam War Medal of Honor winners;
  • Twelve World War II veterans, two of whom were 100 years old and born six days apart in 1922
  • Remainder of the veterans aboard were Korean War and Vietnam War-era veterans
  • Three veterans served in all three wars — WWII, Korean War and the Vietnam war
  • Several Veterans served during both the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Following a first-night dinner at the Baltimore Airport Hilton Hotel, the second-day consisted of sightseeing and visiting the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery, Air Force Memorial, Marines Iwo Jima Memorial, plus the special ceremony commemorating the 250,000th Honor Flight veterans served at the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial. Dinner followed at Fort Myer.

Honor Flight Arizona attempts 10 flights a year, with about 30-35 veterans on each flight. Considering weather conditions in Washington, D.C., flights are arranged in the spring and fall for Arizona veterans.

The Arizona chapter of Honor Flight Network is part of the national organization with a goal of flying as many WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans from Arizona to Washington, D.C., for free. Each Honor Flight is a mix of Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, with some WWII veterans occasionally, according to the website.

Flight priority for waiting lists is based on veterans’ ages starting with those who served in the oldest war (WWII), followed by Korean War, then Vietnam War. Honor Flight Arizona accepts donations from those who wish to contribute to the memorable experience so veterans do not have to bring money, except for purchasing souvenirs.

“Time is not on our side with regard to our eldest veterans,” said Hardina, noting the average age of a WWII veteran is 97 years old, Korean War veterans are in their eighties, and Vietnam veterans are in their seventies.

Twelve veterans flew on the first trip in November 2009 and more than 2,000 veterans have flown from Arizona to Washington, D.C., since then. Honor Flight Arizona’s purpose is to “pay homage” to WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.

Support is given for them to complete a three-day journey of honor and remembrance to the D.C. memorials, while educating youths about the impact of WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars, plus recognize service of veterans.

Describing how veterans enjoy the trip with accommodations at the Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport, including all flights, meals, ground transportation and sightseeing, Hardina said all veteran medical conditions are reviewed by the medical team with wheelchair-bound veterans, even veterans requiring oxygen accommodated.

“Passengers awaiting flights often cheer our veterans as they proceed to the departure gate at Sky Harbor, and as they return to Phoenix after their three-day journey of thanks and remembrance,” said Hardina, detailing the volunteer-based organization.

In addition to community outreach, volunteers plan all aspects of each trip, including meal planning, hotel accommodations, safe passage through security, banquet dinners with guest speakers, scheduling tours, flight, bus transportation and more.

Veterans, who travel free, are often accompanied by a son, daughter or grandchild who pays $1,250 for the whole trip. Wives cannot serve as guardians, said Hardina, noting guardians must be able to push a wheelchair for up to five miles during the trip.

Sign up a veteran or make a donation at honorflightaz.org.

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