FORT PIERCE – Being a guardian on an Honor Flight is one day you will remember forever. If you live in Indian River Martin, Palm Beach, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties, Southeast Florida Honor Flight wants you to fly with them as a veteran, a guardian or volunteer.
This all-volunteer organization makes it possible for World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans to visit Washington D.C. memorials for a day. SEFL Honor Flight raises funds all year long for four flights a year; 2019 flight dates are April 13, May, 11, with September and October to be announced soon.
Guardians are required to attend a three-hour training and pay $400 for the privilege of making sure the veteran has the time of his or her life on this special day.
The day starts at 3:45 a.m. in Stuart, where a busload of guardians, veterans and volunteers is escorted to Palm Beach International Airport. Along the bus route, many fire stations and citizens are up early to wave flags and cheer the vets on. Throughout the day, police and fire escorts are on hand at every stop, so the Honor Flight is not stopped by one traffic signal. Honor Flights visit Arlington National Cemetery, witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Air Force Memorial, and lunch usually at the Arlington Knights of Columbus. The afternoon is for visiting the World War II, Korean and Vietnam War Memorials. Everywhere the Honor Flight vets go, they are greeted with appreciation, cheers and hugs.
Honor Flights are well organized by volunteers who also travel with the veterans. Wheelchairs are provided for the veterans, who may not need one ordinarily, but there’s a great deal of walking, and guardians always encourage vets to use the chairs for veteran safety and comfort. There are medics, nurses, tour guides, and many other volunteers who are ready to loan and unload wheelchairs, and see that veterans safely exit and enter the buses.
On the flight home, veterans receive a surprise package of mail, from loved ones and school children thanking them for their service. The biggest surprise of all awaits veterans at PBIA, where a homecoming crowd is waiting to cheer, wave flags, shake hands and hug veterans and guardians.
A recent Oct. 13 homecoming was the biggest yet, and covered by WPTV, Channel 5.
Author, photographer and professor, Wendy Dwyer, who has been on numerous Honor Flights, says no two flights are the same because every veteran is different. “October 13th was Dr. Singh’s 25th flight and that day made it more of a celebration for everyone.” Shamsher Singh, M.D., a St. Lucie county dermatologist, is a tireless promoter and fund raiser for SEFL Honor Flight.
St. Lucie County’s Property Appraiser, Michelle Franklin, was a first-time guardian October 13, and says, “It was truly an emotional day and one that will forever remain a cherished memory.”
Rhonda Blakey, Director of development and Public Relations for St. Andrews Episcopal Academy, escorted her father, World WarII veteran Calvin Heathman. Blakey says, “This day was so emotional and moving for me. I will never forget it, from start to finish. Southeast Honor Flight did a remarkable job.”
You can be a part of this experience. Visit Southeast Florida Honor Flight at https://www.honorflightsefl.org/. Complete an application to be a guardian or veteran. Consider contributing to this wonderful experience for those who fought to keep our country free.