Did anyone see the V.I.P. motorcade rocketing up Interstate 75 at 4:30 a.m. on June 4? At that early hour, several busloads of V.I.P.s escorted by motorcycles and police cruisers sped by North Baltimore en route to the Grand Aire Hanger at Toledo Express Airport. The buses were full of northwest Ohio’s hometown heroes: Flag City Honor Flight veterans and their guardians.
Honor Flight Network is a national nonprofit organization created to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifices. Honor Flight transports heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans: World War II and Korean War survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.
Initially, Flag City Honor Flight was formed as a branch of Honor Flight NW Ohio in Toledo. In 2010, local leaders of the initiative felt a sense of urgency prompted by the age of World War II veterans to get more area veterans to their memorials. At that juncture, Flag City Honor flight was established as an independent nonprofit agency. North Baltimore has been well-represented on all three Flag City Honor Flights as both veterans and volunteer guardians.
Again, there was a local presence on the June 4, 2013 flight as Sue Crouse, escorted her dad, Harold “Fuzz” Crouse. Sue shared, “If you haven’t gone to Washington, D.C. with a veteran, you haven’t gone to Washington, D.C. I had the privilege to join my dad and over seventy other WW II and Korean War veterans and their guardians for the day. It was a long day but well worth it!”
This year, Melody (Blake) Drewes participated as a guardian for the third time. Also on the flight was her uncle, Paul Johnson (Hoytville). “I was so grateful to spend the day with many wonderful veterans, especially my Uncle Paul! He met my Aunt Ruth when they were both serving in the Korean War. Unfortunately, Aunt Ruth passed away, but I’m sure the Honor Flight trip brought back many wonderful memories for Uncle Paul.”
Each Honor Flight includes its very special stories. This year, two area Korean War veterans from the same unit unexpectedly reunited after sixty years. Together they reminisced over a picture from their unit from sixty years ago that one of them had brought on the flight.
Jerry Murray, Findlay, shared another similar story. “I had the honor of accompanying my father, Buddy, on the trip. When we arrived at 4:00 am, the first person he met was a fellow Korean vet from his same division in the Army! They shared all day long. When we arrived at the National Mall, we chose to go straight to the Korean War Memorial. As we were viewing, a team of Navy media people asked if they could record us. Dad said, ‘Sure, would you like to hear my poem?’ I didn’t know that Dad had brought his discharge papers and a poem he had written prior to landing in Korea. They wired him for sound and began the interview. People began to gather and listened to the reading and thanked him for his service.”
Each veteran on the flight is a hero with an important personal story of his service. Some veterans want to share their stories and others do not. I overheard one story of sacrifice that I found especially powerful. Kenneth Lentz, WW II veteran, shared a story of his 18th mission as a tail gunner on a B-17. On that flight he saw an angel.
“Our bomb blew our plane up,” Lentz said, “I was very lucky. There were nine of us on the crew. Eight of them were killed.” After being blown out the tail and severely injuring his leg, Lentz pulled his ripcord at 22,000 feet above the earth and then quickly passed out.
“It was white,” Lentz said, “It stayed right with me all the way down. It never touched me all the way down. I can still see it as plain as day. I had a guardian angel. It must have guided me down.”
Mr. Lentz, 19, was wounded and passed out when the Germans found him hanging by his parachute from the corner of a building. Presumed dead, they took him to a P.O.W. hospital on a horse and buggy where he spent the next 10 months of his life.
As you can tell, a day on Honor Flight is not for the weak of heart. It is guaranteed to provide the highest emotional highs and also tire you to your absolute physical limits, but I encourage you to find a way to participate in an Honor Flight.
For veterans, you deserve to spend a day being celebrated as the heroes you are. You deserve to be mobbed at the monument honoring your service by everyday citizens who just want to shake your hands.
For the rest of us, find a way to help. It can be as easy as greeting the returning flight at Toledo Express Airport and giving our veterans the welcome home celebration they never received. If you are physically fit, and especially if you have some medical or E.M.T. training, volunteer to serve as a guardian for a veteran whose family cannot accompany him. I promise it will be the best volunteer experience of your lifetime.
For additional information on future flights or to volunteer or donate to Flag City Honor Flight, please visit http://www.flagcityhonorflight.org/.