Virginia group has taken nearly 1,700 vets to D.C. to see their war memorials. October was the final trip.
The mission was simple: Take as many World War II veterans as possible to see their memorial in Washington, D.C.
The National World War II Memorial honors the 16 million who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and the more than 400,000 who died, as well as those who supported the war effort from home. It opened to the public on April 29, 2004, and was dedicated one month later. It is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west.
The project began with one man, Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain who worked in a Department of Veteran Affairs clinic in Springfield, Ohio. After the memorial was completed in 2004, he realized many of his WWII patients would not be able to travel to Washington to visit their memorial.
As a pilot, he offered to fly with two veterans to Washington in January 2005. He later pitched the idea to about 300 private pilots at his local Air Force aeroclub, proposing each pilot would pay for the flights and personally escort veterans around the city. Eleven additional pilots volunteered. On May 21, 2005, six small planes flew 12 veterans to Washington for the first Honor Flight.
In February 2007, Morse merged Honor Flight with HonorAir, created by Jeff Miller, a Hendersonville, N.C., owner of a dry cleaner, into what is now known as the Honor Flight Network. By 2017, there were 140 Honor Flight Network regional hubs across the United States. They currently escort WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans to see their memorials in Washington. By the end of the 2017 flying season, the network had escorted more than 200,000 veterans to their memorials, free of cost to the veterans.
Virginia’s Honor Flight Network hub, Honor Flight Historic Triangle Virginia, serves the area from Charlottesville to Norfolk and the northeastern corner of North Carolina. Since May 2009, the organization has been taking veterans twice each year to the national memorials in Washington at no cost to the veterans. After 10 years, the hub is shutting down after the 20th and final mission, which made the trip to Washington on Oct. 20. The Virginia group has escorted 1,689 Veterans to the nation’s capital.
Korean War Veterans held a slight majority on Mission 17 and Vietnam War Veterans have been the overwhelming majority since Mission 18. Where WWII veterans numbered more than a hundred, and were the only group included at the beginning of the program, the most recent trip included just nine veterans of that war.
The shift in demographics signaled the group had achieved its original goal of assisting all local WWII Veterans who were willing and able to visit the National WWII Memorial. The 117 veterans who boarded five buses across Virginia last month would be the last.