More than 16 million men and women served in the military during WWII. There are now roughly one million remaining, dying at a rate of 800 per day.
So, time is running out to give one last “Thank You” to those who sacrificed so much to preserve our freedoms.
That’s where Collier County Honor Flight (CCHF) comes in. It’s an all-volunteer, non-profit mission to take local veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service.
Darryl Johnson, a key CCHF volunteer was the featured speaker at the DAR’s recent meeting at Hideaway Beach Club.
Two local veterans, Navy veteran Dr. Debi Strand and Air Force veteran Sean Lux, arranged the first Collier flight on November 9, 2013 for 45 WWII and five Korean War veterans.
“Since then,” he said, “Collier County Honor Flight has organized 15 flights for 1,000 veterans.”
Each flight costs $85,000; $70,000 for the plane charter alone. Johnson said that American Airlines as been their primary carrier.
Johnson is a “Guardian,” an escort assigned to a traveling veteran, so he was able to give a first-hand description of a typical Honor Flight:
“During the daylong journey, the veterans are provided with all transportation, busses, wheelchairs, three full meals and snacks. They also get an enthusiastic cheering crowd sendoff at local airports.”
Some of the DAR members are personally familiar with those airport celebrations having participated in one involving women veterans at the Naples Airport.
Johnson said that law enforcement provides official escorts on the highways, “complete with lights and sirens, no stopping at red lights, and there’s a water cannon salute at Reagan National Airport.”
Johnson laughed that even the ambulatory veterans welcome the donated wheelchairs because, “They get more hugs and kisses when they’re in the chairs!”
“There’s a military style ‘mail call’ on the flights home,” he added, “when the veterans are given thank you letters, notes or cards sent in by school children, individuals, businesses and families.”
Johnson said many of the veterans are too emotional to read them right away. “Many save them for later.”
Since the first ever Honor Flight in 2005 in Ohio, the national effort has grown to 137 chapters thanking 180,000 veterans with Honor Flights.
Flights are funded by donations from individuals, corporations, foundations, schools, military organizations, and other fraternal organizations that want to honor these heroes. No funding is received from the government.
The next Collier County Honor Flights are Mission 16 – May 5, Mission 17 – September 29, Mission 18 – October 20.
Here is what you can do:
- Volunteer to be a guardian. Guardians pay $450 for the privilege of being the personal escort to a veteran. Guardians can be strangers, friends or a family member.
- Volunteer your time and energy to help organize the flights.
- Write a thank you letter to a vet.
- Be part of the sendoff or arrival greeting at the Naples Airport or the Southwest Florida International Airport in Ft. Myers when the veterans and their guardians return from their visit to Washington, D.C.
- Donate money! It’s easy through the website and tax deductible.
To learn more about Collier County Honor Flight call 239-777-9295 or visit www.CollierHonorFlight.org.
The Marco Island Chapter of the DAR was established in 1976. It has 59 members and 14 associates. Monthly luncheon meetings are at 10:30 AM on the third Thursday of each month. Potential members and visitors from other chapters are welcome.
For more information, contact Karen Lombardi at 239-394-0028.