Honor Flights looking for volunteers and passengers

Jim Henderson, then 95, approached by a well-wisher with his daughter, Maggie Cox, at the FDR Memorial in 2018. Photo by Tom Meinhold for the Honor Flights program.

NORTH COUNTY —  Honor Flight of the Central Coast, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to honoring local veterans, with trips to Washington, D.C. is looking for guardians to fly with elder veterans during upcoming trips
Of course, said Bear McGill, president of the organization’s Central Coast hub, World War II and Korean War veterans are being sought to apply for the next round of trips in May and June, but with the next trip already full, what’s really needed are volunteers willing to pay for their own seat on the three-day trip and aid the traveling vets on the journey.
For the veterans themselves, the package is an all-expense paid trip, the next two scheduled for May 6-8 and June 10-12.
Since 2014, the local organization has sent 270 local veterans on the sojourn, around half from the North County and the rest residing near San Luis Obispo. Vets living in other areas are encouraged to go through Honor Flight hubs closer to home.
Each year volunteers raise approximately $100,000 for three trips over the course of the year, booked on local American Airlines flights out of San Luis Obispo Regional Airport with a water cannon salute from the airport’s Cal Fire station. Volunteers accompanying vets are asked to pay $1,500 to the organization which then covers the flight, accommodations, meals and incidentals.
Often the volunteer guardians for the flights are family McGill notes, but many vets don’t have anyone that can go with them. Those bound to wheelchairs or needing other assistance could use the help of younger companions for the journey.
In a press announcement drafted by AMF Central Coast president Maggie Cox, McGill, explained that he’d been on nine such trips, “and every time I am moved to tears watching once-young soldiers remembering their pasts. They are fiercely patriotic and even with physical limitations, still insist on standing when the National Anthem is played. Everywhere we go, strangers approach our veterans to thank them for their service. It is a powerful lesson.”
In the sending out the recruitment plea, Cox also noted that it meant a great deal to accompany her 95-year-old father on the last trip in October 2018, and there was growing concern that it was becoming too late for other families to have shared that moment, “advancing age is a big factor and we need to move now before we lose any more of these vets,” she wrote.
Sadly, her words were prophetic as her father, Jim Henderson, passed away one day after she wrote about those concerns.
“I’m just really glad he got that trip in when he did,” she said in the week after his death. “We talk all the time about this being a last chance for these men and women to see the monuments built in their honor and be with people who’ve shared the same experience, but we didn’t think it would be the case for us.”
For Henderson, Cox explained, the trip was something he talked often about in his final months and pictures and mementos of the experience are featuring heavily in planning his memorial.
“It was full circle to be honored for what he did as a young man,” Cox said noting that her father had earned a silver star for action in the European theater during his time in the U.S. Army at just 20-years-old.
For the moment McGill said, the emphasis is on sending WWII and Korea-era veterans to the nation’s capital but Vietnam-era soldiers are invited to schedule trips as well.
For some it may be the only fanfare they’ve received, “Honor Flights encourages people to come out to greet the planes as they come home and on arrival,” Cox added, noting that San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson was on hand with a celebration as the vets returned in October, and they were similarly greeted as their plane touched down in Baltimore, Maryland
Information and applications for both veterans and travel guardians are available at www.honorflight.org.


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