Honor Flight Northwest Ohio takes final flightWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
After seven seasons, 37 flights and 2,071 veterans served, Honor Flight Northwest Ohio has taken its last flight.
The local hub formed in 2008 to fly World War II veterans to their memorial in Washington, D.C., free of charge. The organization has since opened to Korean and Vietnam veterans as well.
The group’s final flight was originally scheduled for September but an anonymous donor financed one more trip on Oct. 29, carrying 118 Vietnam and Korean veterans.
Kent Greenlese, 66, of Walbridge was among the veterans on that flight.
Greenlese, who served in the Navy, said when he returned from Vietnam there were protesters at the airport in California and only his mother to greet him in Toledo. Honor Flight’s welcome home ceremony at Grand Aire terminal was a little different.
“I admit I was crying when that happened,” he said. “I didn’t expect so many people to be there. It was really emotional to see everyone screaming and waving and the band playing. The part that got me the most was when they started chanting, ‘USA! USA!’ I kind of lost it there. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”
His favorite part was seeing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He also made rubbings at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of the names of two neighbors who were killed.
“I’m sorry it was the last trip,” he said. “There are a lot of people who didn’t get to go. But it was really terrific.”
Vietnam veteran Howard Yunker of Swanton was also on the Oct. 29 flight. His twin brother, Harold, was there to welcome him home.
Harold, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force, was on an Honor Flight trip two years ago. Howard served in the Army.
“He talks about it all the time,” Harold’s wife, Kathryn, said. “It was such an important day. I think it’s that way for everyone who goes. He was so excited.”
Marine Corps veteran Peter Brown, 65, of Toledo learned in August he would be on the Oct. 29 flight, but died two days later of complications of Agent Orange exposure during his service in Vietnam, his wife Conni Urbanski-Brown said. Honor Flight took Brown’s flag on the flight.
“That was such an honor for them to do that,” she said. “It’s the next best thing since he couldn’t go.”
Board member David Chilson, a Navy veteran, said closing the hub was a “difficult and emotional” decision, but the organization felt its original mission was complete. He declined to comment further as did other board members.
“We have taken really all of the World War II veterans who have applied,” Chilson told Toledo Free Press earlier this summer. “Many of the other hubs around the country have shut down once they took the WWII veterans. We’ve gone well beyond that.”
“Honor Flight is much more than just seeing the memorials,” he told TFP in 2013. “It’s a chance to share the experience of the entire day with 70-some other veterans. What I hope they take away is that people still remember and are very appreciative for their service during World War II and during the Korean War and we still remember and honor them.”
The Honor Flight Network, which includes 135 regional hubs in 42 states, was founded in 2005 and has flown more than 81,000 veterans.
The biggest obstacle for hubs is fundraising, said Diane Gresse, executive director of Honor Flight Network. Nationally, there are about 20,000 veterans on waiting lists with a typical wait time of about a year, she said.
“It’s just a way to pay back the veterans for their service and their sacrifice,” Gresse said. “They are very genuinely humble and appreciate that Americans have not forgotten their service to our country.”
Gaylord and Chris Sheldon of Genoa have served as medical guardians on about 20 Honor Flight trips.
“To listen to some of their stories was just flat-out amazing,” Gaylord said. “It just gave me goosebumps thinking about what they went through.”
Gaylord is a retired battalion fire chief and his wife is a firefighter.
“I’m sorry to see it come to an end, but I’m even more sorry to see the World War II guys vanishing,” Gaylord said. “They are all getting old and passing away.”
The nearest hub now is Flag City Honor Flight in Findlay, which started in 2010 and offers one flight per year. This is the first year the group has had a waiting list, which president and flight director Deb Wickerham attributes partly to Toledo’s hub closing but also to growing awareness of Honor Flight among Korean and Vietnam veterans.
Army National Guard member and Marine Corps veteran Tim Bellville of Toledo served as a guardian for an Honor Flight Northwest Ohio trip in June.
“I love hanging around the ‘Greatest Generation,’” Bellville said.
“There was tears. There was hugs. There was a lot of silence,” he said of the veterans seeing their memorials. You hear a lot of the time, ‘They just don’t talk about it.’ But you get them around one of those memorials, and they open up. What Honor Flight is doing is admirable work, it really is.”
For more information, visit www.honorflight.org.
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