A Tribute to Our Veterans
By Joanne Chive
Every year, more than 4 million visitors tour the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. However, the majority of the war’s veterans have never had the opportunity to make that trip. In fact, out of the estimated 600,000 World War II veterans living nationwide, less than 3 percent have seen the memorial.
Honor Flight South Florida is the local chapter of the Honor Flight Network, whose mission is to thank America’s veterans by flying them to the nation’s capital, at no charge, so they can visit their memorials. The organization hosts four trips from South Florida every year and has sponsored more than 800 veterans since 2013. Flights leave early in the morning and the group spends a full day in Washington visiting the memorial and other sites. Each veteran is matched with a guardian who helps with transportation and meals.
“One World War II veteran passes away every 90 seconds, and the youngest remaining vets are already in their 90s,” says Ryan Paton, director of operations and co-founder of Honor Flight South Florida. “Our window is closing to thank them and give them this amazing experience.” Because of this, priority is given to WWII survivors; after that, veterans from the Korean War, then the Vietnam War, will have the opportunity to participate.
When they return to South Florida, the veterans receive a true heroes’ welcome, as an estimated 2,000-3,000 volunteers show up waving flags to greet the group. “For many, this is a trip of a lifetime, and they are overwhelmed by the memorial and the support they get throughout the day,” Paton says. “But another highlight is the homecoming they receive when they land at the airport. Oftentimes, nobody was there when they came home from the war, so they become very emotional when the community comes out to cheer them on.”
Get Involved: There are several ways you can support Honor Flight South Florida. Since this is a volunteer-driven organization, 100 percent of contributions and in-kind donations go toward the trips. Guardians are also needed, as are volunteers to participate in the airport homecoming celebrations. honorflightsouthflorida.org