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Jeff Rubin: Inspirational, life affirming Honor Flights much more than just a way to honor our veterans

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a friend of mine named Mike. He had called to ask me if I would pass along some information regarding “Honor Flights.”

There are two, in fact. One takes off Sept. 6 and the other on Oct. 14. As I was unfamiliar with the term, let alone the program, I inquired further.

What I learned about Honor Flights has been inspirational to me and nothing short of a life affirming, personally rewarding, and moving experience for all who have benefited from its mission. I further discovered however, that the nature of these flights added a sense of urgency to an objective that was becoming more and more critical every day.

The Honor Flights that will be taking off from Louisville and Lexington are much more than just a special flight. They are, in fact, part of an all-volunteer national non-profit undertaking to pay homage to WWII, Korean War, and most recently, Vietnam era veterans, for the sacrifice and service they provided to our country.

Formed in 2005 through the efforts of Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain, and a handful of fellow volunteers, Honor Flights have grown into what is now some 130 chapters in 42 states. These chapters include both the Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter and the Honor Flight Kentucky Chapter. Every chapter has a similar mission: to locate and identify eligible veterans and provide them with a one-day, all-expense paid opportunity to receive the honor and closure they deserve.

Each flight is made possible through the generosity of individual and corporate donations. Every trip, however, is made memorable through the efforts of trained guardians (individual escorts) and local volunteers.

Honorees are safely flown under medical supervision to Washington D.C. for “a first class, VIP, police escorted tour” to each of their respective memorials, as well as Arlington National Cemetery and the Marine Corps War Memorial. Upon their return, they are met at their airport of origin for a “Welcome Home” celebration by friends, family, and a grateful community.

The goal, as described on the Honor Flight web site, is to “break through to a veteran that their service meant something and that their sacrifice made a difference in the life of a person two generations past their service.” The desire is to have either a veteran say – “that was the best day of my life”, or a family member say, “my grandfather will not stop talking about this trip to DC.”

Why is this so important? Consider the following. Our nation is losing more than 1,500 World War II era veterans and more than 500 Korean War era veterans every day.  To put that in perspective, let’s look at some figures a little closer to home.

In 2013, there were approximately 18,000 World War II era veterans and 30,000 Korean War era veterans remaining in Kentucky. By 2015, that figure declined by 42 percent to 10,500 World War II veterans, and 21 percent to 23,771 for those who served during the Korean conflict. In Madison County, where I live, there are estimated to be only 197 World War II era veterans and 446 Korean War era veterans remaining.

The youngest, based upon each era’s standard enlistment age, would be 90 and 85, respectively. Given their age, and the fact that the World War II Memorial didn’t open to the public until April 2004, means many honorees would be seeing their memorial for the first time. The goal, therefore, is to get as many of these heroes as possible to see their memorials before they pass away.

To my friend, that meant getting his 86-year-old father, a former World War II Army Air Corp Staff Sargent and right-wing gunner on a B17 bomber, on an Honor Flight some six years ago. The trip Mike and his Dad went on together, took place just one year before his Dad passed away. It was, as Mike shared with me, “a highlight of his father’s life,” and “an honor and privilege” for him to have shared that experience with his dad.

Today, he serves as a volunteer and board member of the Bluegrass Honor Flight Association helping others to realize all the emotions, joy, and closure such an experience can bring.

If you have a loved one or friend you would like to see honored, or know of someone who does, take a moment to share this information with them or contact Honor Flights now. To enroll someone in a flight, serve as a guardian on a flight, become an Honor Flight volunteer, or to simply donate or sponsor a flight, call or visit one of the two chapter’s websites below or contact the Department of Veterans Affairs. You’ll be glad you did.

Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter

The Honor Flight Kentucky Chapter

Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs

Jeff Rubin is an advocate and adviser on community and aging issues, having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels. An advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is currently working to advance these initiatives statewide in Kentucky and invites your comments, involvement, and support. He can be reached at Jeffrubin515@gmail.com.

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