Recent Honor Flight carries Akron-Canton’s 1,000th veteran to Washington memorials
“It is our mission to serve those who served our country.”
Those are the words of Earl Morse, founder and president of Honor Flight Network, which provides veterans a free trip to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
For Valerie Street Kinney, executive director of the Honor Flight chapter that flies World War II veterans from the Akron-Canton Airport, the reason for providing such flights is both simple — and urgent.
“It’s the least we can do,” she said. “For some of them, it’s going to be their last trip.”
1. First and foremost, the day is fun. “It was a beautiful day,” said Kinney of the group’s most recent trip. “We got a police escort. They had a ball with that. Every place they went the sirens were blaring.” Musicians played at the airport upon their arrival and the veterans were greeted by Elizabeth Dole. The trip sponsor, Smucker’s, provided veterans with jars of apple butter and strawberry jelly upon their return. “This year,” said Kinney of Canton, “we got Folgers coffee, too.”
2. It’s more than one memorial. When the veterans gathered at Akron-Canton Airport before 6 a.m. on a recent Saturday they had a full day in store. Although the focus of Honor Flight is to take World War II veterans to the World War II Memorial, visits are made to several other war memorials — the Iwo Jima Memorial, Korean Memorial, Vietnam Memorial Wall, Lincoln Memorial and FDR Memorial.
3. It takes many to make an Honor Flight. “It’s so many people lending a helping hand,” said Kinney of the cooperative organizational effort that results in an Honor Flight. Besides funding the flight, Smucker’s also provided 30 employees to serve as guardians. In all, 72 guardians assisted 108 veterans on the trip. And, not forgotten is the support provided by almost 600 people who greeted veterans about 9 p.m. upon their arrival back at Akron-Canton Airport.
4. A list of veterans is shortening. On this trip, Honor Flight CAK flew its 1,000th veteran to Washington, D.C., since its initial trip in September 2007. In all, Honor Flight chapters at 109 hubs have flown more than 81,000 World War II veterans to their memorial. Kinney noted another trip for Honor Flight CAK is scheduled for September. But, the clock is ticking. Two veterans scheduled to go on the recent trip canceled for health reasons. “Our list is shortening,” said Kinney.
5. The mission continues. Smucker’s calls the Honor Flight trips “Memories and Moments.” It is an appropriate moniker, they say. There are many special moments that linger long after veterans have returned home — remembrances that go far beyond the Honor Flight T-shirt, hat, and canvas bag that each veteran is given. Kinney recalled one such moment. “I sat next to a vet on the bus. He was by himself, so I plopped down beside him. As we always do, we sang, ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ It’s a tradition. He held my hand and started singing, and, at the end, he said, ‘Thank you.’ That’s all it takes to make you want to do it again.”