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The Honor Flight Tri-State organization wants to reward veterans by providing free flights to Washington D.C. to see the memorials that honor their service.
Jouett Faulkner of Dry Ridge lived to see a dream come true when he was whisked away on an airplane last fall to visit the War War II Memorial in Washington.
The trip and memorial had special meaning for Faulkner because he was part of the 120-man 60th Medical Battalion, Company C, who stormed Omaha Beach during WW II. There were more than 4,000 casualties during that battle.
Kim Brockhoff, of Crittenden, is a volunteer with Honor Flight. He is hoping that more veterans will come forward to take advantage of the free program.
Last year, the Cincinnati-based non-profit, conducted more than five flights with 450 participants.
“We just want to get these veterans to Washington to see their memorials because we’re losing more of them every day,” Brockhoff said. He estimated as many as 800 veterans from WWII die daily.
The WWII and Korean War veterans are the group’s top priority as the number of survivors from these wars is dwindling. The group says that in another five to seven years, almost all the WWII veterans will be gone.
To be selected for the program, a veteran or someone on behalf of the veteran should fill out an application at honorflighttristate.org. A phone interview follows the application.
There are also applications online for guardians, often children, grandchildren or other family members, to accompany the veterans.
The cost for this is $350. For veterans who don’t have a guardian to go with them, there is a waiting list of people who have volunteered to serve as guardians and accompany veterans on the trip.
Faulkner’s grandson, Josh Faulkner, who is serving in the military, accompanied his grandfather.
‘It was really, really something,” Jouett said. “It was really nice and I appreciate that I got to go.”
Brockhoff said that all those involved with the honor flights are volunteers.
“Every nickel we raise goes to get these guys to Washington,” Brockhoff said.
Donations are also accepted to help offset costs.
“The airplane alone costs about $28,000 so we’re always holding fundraisers,” he said.
The flights occur April through October and happen once a month, with none in July and August when Washington temperatures often soar.
Brockhoff was able to serve as a guardian to his stepfather on a flight last year. It was an experience both of them treasure.
“He had never been to see the memorial. It’s a pretty neat thing. It’s just so rewarding to be able to take these guys,” Brockhoff said.
Spouses are not allowed to accompany these veterans because the idea is for the veterans to talk amongst themselves and share their experiences with others who might have had a similar experience.
Brockhoff said veterans are treated like a “king for a day.”
Once arriving in Washington, the veterans are transported around the city on chartered tour buses, with a police escort. Their meals and snacks are included.
Faulkner’s experience included being greeted by dozens of uniformed cadets from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. upon arrival at Baltimore International Airport. Retired U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, talked to the vets and posed for photos with them at the memorial.
When the veterans return home, they are greeted by a military honor guard, as well as by friends and family.
“It’s tough to convince some of the veterans to go,” Brockhoff said. “Some have health issues and are afraid but we take wheelchairs with us and also have medical staff available.
“Most of these veterans are in their 80s and 90s. We’ve even taken one as old as 99. Some are concerned about a 16-hour day, but we attempt to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible. The only thing they have to do is get to the airport and we take care of the rest,” Brockhoff said.
For more about honor flights, go to www.honorflighttristate.org.