World War II veterans in the Dougherty and Lee counties have access to a unique opportunity, thanks to a Columbus-based organization.
West Georgia Honor Flight is searching for veterans of the Second World War to participate in its next flights next April to Washington, D.C., honoring their service to the nation. Under the program, the veterans are treated to a one-day, all-expenses-paid journey to the nation’s capital, where they tour national memorials and enjoy camaraderie with fellow comrades in arms.
Royce Ard, director of West Georgia Honor Flight, spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County on December 28 about his group’s mission, which according to the WGHF web site is “to honor as many of these selfless ordinary people who saved the world as we can by providing them an all-expenses-paid trip to visit their memorial in Washington, D.C.”
Ard noted that Honor Flight works to identify and locate WWII veterans; recruit volunteers and guardians (a “guardian” means someone who will accompany the veterans for the day); plan trip logistics; publicize honor flights; and raise funds for the trips.
Funding for the trips is accomplished through corporate and private donations, as well as fundraising by sponsoring organizations, including churches, civic clubs, or school groups.
Particularly through the participation of school groups as sponsors, Ard believes WGHF meets its objective to “honor the country’s past and also creates a bond with country’s future.”
West Georgia Honor Flight encourages volunteers and guardians to accompany the veterans on the flight. The trip is completely free to the veterans, but the cost for guardians and volunteers is $400. Last year’s flight ratio was one guardian per three veterans (with an exception of one guardian per each wheelchair-bound veteran). This year, as an added safety measure, they would like to have more guardians per veterans.
West Georgia Honor Flight is affiliated with the national Honor Flight Network. The Columbus chapter is the closest to Albany, Ard said, but there are also chapters in Atlanta and Valdosta, as well as Dothan, Ala.
Nationally, Honor Flights trace their roots back to 2005 when the first two vets were transported to Washington, D.C., in small private planes. Overall, it has grown exponentially from a total of 137 veterans honored in 2005 to more than 18,000 in 2009 by chapters in virtually every state in the country.
The first flight for WGHF lifted off on September 22, 2009, with nearly 100 WWII veterans on board. Once in the nation’s capital, the honorees were tributed in a ceremony led by Third District Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, toured the World War II and Iwo Jima memorials, observed the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, and enjoyed a visit by former Sen. Bob Dole – a WWII veteran himself – and his wife Elizabeth. Upon the group’s return to Columbus, they were greeted heartily at the airport by a throng of some 1400 well-wishers, Ard said.
Ard encouraged the participation of the Kiwanis Club (which includes some WWII veterans among its living membership) as an Honor Flight sponsor, and observed that due to the age factor, “Time is of the essence. We are losing (an estimated) 1200 (WWII) veterans a day. In a few years there won’t any left.” The next Honor Flights are scheduled for April 16th and 23rd, 2010.
Though World War II veterans are the current focus of the Honor Flights, Ard said they hope in the future to extend the recognition to Korean and Vietnam War vets.
After Ard concluded his presentation, Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County President Doreen Parker commented to the veterans present, “What they’re doing is just a small token of what we’re indebted to each of you for.”
Lee County residents or organizations interested in joining the West Georgia Honor Flight effort can contact Kathleen Moylan of the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County at 229-435-8886 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moylan has registration forms for veterans and guardians and can provide additional information and is coordinating efforts with Ard for the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County. West Georgia Honor Flight can also be contacted directly at 706-507-WWII (9944) or through their website at www.wgahonorflight.org.
“The Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County would be glad to partner with other local civic organizations in affording these veterans an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Moylan.