For area veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, visiting the Washington, D.C. memorials can be difficult. It’s a much easier trip when Findlay, Ohio-based Flag City Honor Flight plans the free trip and accompanies them to see the memorials built in their honor.
Honor Flight President Bob Weinberg explains. “Honor Flight is life-changing, not just for veterans and their families, but for us putting it on,” he said. “It’s the welcome home they’ve never had. Yep, it’s why we fly.”
“It’s an amazing trip I’ll never forget,” said First Lieutenant Mark Wexler, a 22-year Air Force veteran from Toledo who took the Honor Flight’s June trip this year. “I’m in awe of the Honor Flight people on the plane and the people in Swanton” who managed the day.
A monumental undertaking
Flag City Honor Flight, founded in 2010, began hosting one charter flight each year for veterans. It grew to twice-annual trips in 2017, before pausing in 2020 and 2021. This year, flights were held in June and September, and a Vietnam-veteran-only flight is planned for November.
More than 400 Vietnam veterans are waiting to participate in the Honor Flight, according to Weinberg (World War II veterans have priority, followed by Korean War veterans). The November flight was added when Findlay-based Ohio Logistics became a corporate sponsor.
“We’d like to continue three flights a year, especially to allow more Vietnam vets to participate, and continue to involve corporate or individual sponsors,” Weinberg said. “We have a lot of dedicated supporters, but we had no flights and slow cash flow during COVID-19. It costs us over $100,000 for a flight now.”
A trained guardian (which can include a family member) is paired with and introduced to each veteran taking the flight. They meet each other the morning of the flight and stay together all day. In addition, a dozen medical personnel accompany the veterans throughout the day, what Wineberg calls “a flying triage.”
A very full day
Veterans arrive at Grand Aire terminal at Toledo Express Airport at 5:30 a.m. for their 8:00 a.m. flight. When they reach Washington, they have a police escort into the city. They are free to visit the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials on their own, meeting up for a barbecue lunch.
Then they’re on to Arlington National Cemetery (for the changing of the guard), and to the Marine Corps and Air Force memorials before heading back to Ohio. A stop at the FDR Memorial was added to the September trip.
“I was intrigued by the Vietnam memorial,” said Lt. Wexler, “especially the statue of the three soldiers behind the wall. They represent those who served and returned.” He was also impressed by the 270-feet tall Air Force Memorial and its three spires, as well as the vast loss of life by all of the monuments represent.
Coming home – finally
Veterans returning to Swanton at the end of a very long day are greeted by up to 1,000 people at Grand Aire hangar – family and friends cheering and waving flags, and bands to welcome them home. “On every flight, and when they’re welcomed home, there are a lot of tears,” said Weinberg. “We hear lots of stories about what this means to them and their families.”
The day ends with a re-creation of the daily mail call ritual. Letters and cards from family and school groups, along with a front-page story of the day’s activities from the Findlay Courier newspaper (created from over 3,000 photos taken that day), are among the items in each treasured mail call bag.
“Many veterans say they don’t feel they deserve this trip,” said Weinberg. “But I tell them, ‘Your country asked you to serve, and you answered the call. You deserve this welcome home.’” Yep, that’s why they fly.
To apply for an upcoming Honor Flight, visit www.flagcityhonorflight.com.