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Valley veterans reminisce, get hero’s sendoff on flight to D.C.

Honor Flight Arizona hosts trip to memorials to bring some vets recognition that never came their way originally

Posted 4/17/24

Tucked into a gathering room in a corner of Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are a bunch of men and women wearing gold shirts.

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Valley veterans reminisce, get hero’s sendoff on flight to D.C.

Honor Flight Arizona hosts trip to memorials to bring some vets recognition that never came their way originally


Tucked into a gathering room in a corner of Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are a bunch of men and women wearing gold shirts. Having breakfast, talking about anything and everything. While most everyone else in the airport is hustling to their gate, this group over 50-strong laugh without a care in the world.

Honor Flight Arizona was an hour or so from its second departure of the spring season, and with it some 25 military veterans – each with a companion – on a quick crosscountry flight to Washington, D.C. There the nonprofit organization will lead the group on a tour of military memorials around the Capitol, including those dedicated to honor each war.

These veterans lived through it, including 95-year-old Dave Fairbanks, of Fountain Hills, who served in the Army at the tail end of World War II and the beginning days of the Korean War. He grew up near Ann Arbor, Michigan, and will be making his first trip to D.C. since as a schoolteacher he took a class there for a field trip in 1964.

“It’s a good chance to meet a lot of people who are not in the service anymore,” Fairbanks smiled. “Plus the fact that we’re seeing some of the memorials.”

Honor Flight Arizona was started in 2008 as the northern/central Arizona chapter of Honor Flight Network, the 28th state to set up a hub. The national network flies WWII, Cold War, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans from Arizona to Washington, D.C. at no cost to them.

It’s about honoring their service as well as those who didn’t make it home. It’s also about camaderie and, for some, seeing the memorials in person for the very first time.

It’s also very much about getting veterans, especially from the Vietnam era, the honor and recognition that didn’t come their way when they first returned from deployment.

When the group of Honor Flight Arizona veterans – some in wheelchairs – head toward their plane at Sky Harbor and upon their return home two days later, they are saluted with rousing applause from an entire gate of travelers who quickly learn who they are.

“When we traveled they suggested… well, you didn’t wear your uniform, let me put it that way,” recalled Terry Taylor, a Scottsdale resident who served in the Navy from 1975 to ’79. “It was tough. You didn’t tell anybody what you did.”

Taylor was on this flight with her husband, Rick, who served with the Army in Vietnam in 1970-71. She still gets emotional when talking about the treatment soldiers received then when they returned home. It wasn’t like today.

“They were young men and didn’t really have a choice,” she said. “Then they come home and people were … there wasn’t a hero’s welcome. So I’m happy for him.”

Honor Flight Arizona remedies that with each flight. Another is scheduled to depart from Sky Harbor on April 23 with a new group of veterans, some of whom have been on a 1,200-person waiting list.

“Nobody wanted a Vietnam vet around,” Rick recalled of when he returned home way back when. “They all thought we were baby killers and drug addicts.”

The Korean and World War II memorials will be new for Rick, who has in fact previously visited the solemn Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the most-visited memorial on the National Mall, attracting more than 5 million people each year.

“The first time I saw that was really dramatic,” he added.

The thoughts going through Paul Lewis’ mind as he boarded the Honor Flight Arizona plane were lifetimes removed from when he boarded that flight to Vietnam back in 1970 while the Ahwatukee resident served in the Army. Lewis was 19 when his number came up in the draft lottery, turned 20 in basic training, and turned 21 in Vietnam.

“I was out of the fire and into the frying pan,” he said.

All college deferments were canceled back then, remembered the then-University of Northern Colorado student (Colorado State College back then).

As he getting ready to board his plane to Vietnam guys were departing the plane having just returned from there. Lewis happened to see a guy he went to high school with returning home.

“All they wanted to do was get off that plane and get home. Nobody wanted to talk to you,” Lewis said. “I just said ‘hi’ and all he said was ‘good luck.’”

On the long flight over Lewis had plenty of time to ponder thoughts not typical for a 20-year-old to face.

“Am I gonna be able to kill somebody? What happens if I become a POW? Am I gonna kill myself then instead of being a POW?,” Lewis said. “It’s an 18-20 hour flight. You just didn’t know what your future held.”

While the veteran’s companions, as well as other Honor Flight Arizona support staff, all pay their own way on the two-night trip, the veterans’ flights, accomodations and food are all taken care of thanks solely to individual and corporate donations. Honor Flight Arizona has no paid positions.

That 1,200-person waiting list, by the way, is just for the Arizona chapter. The organization stood down for two years during the COVID pandemic but returned to the skies with six trips in 2022, nine in 2023, will complete another nine this year, and is on target for 10 flights in 2025 as they make their way through the list.

Applications for World War II veterans are prioritized, as are those of other aging vets.

To donate to the Honor Flight Arizona cause, or to submit an application for yourself or a loved one, call 928-377-1020, email info@honorflightaz.org, or visit https://honorflightaz.org.