MOUNT VERNON — Sixty-six years after the end of World War II, the veterans of that conflict are dying at a rapid rate. Many have never had a chance to visit the memorial that was erected on the mall in Washington, D.C., nearly 60 years after that conflict.
Honor Flight is a national effort dedicated to giving those aging veterans a chance to visit the memorial to the great effort of their youth. Honor Flight Columbus is part of that effort.
John and Diane Holley of Mount Vernon are working with Honor Flight Columbus to raise money and to sign up veterans to take the trip. Working with them is Janice Wheaton, director of the Licking County Veterans Service Commission and commander of VFW Post 1060 in Newark, making it a joint effort in Knox and Licking counties to raise $16,000, enough to pay for 35 veterans to make the trip.
Honor Flight Columbus has tentatively scheduled five charter flights out of Columbus to make the trip, provided enough money is raised and enough veterans sign up. Each flight can carry about 90 veterans and each flight costs about $48,000. Support personnel also on the flight pay their own way.
The Holleys and Wheaton are contacting businesses, veterans’ groups and community organizations to seek donations and distribute information about the flights. They will have tables at community events where people can get information about the flights and donate money. The Holleys are targeting their efforts toward the trip in October and hope to have a large contingent from Knox and Licking counties on that flight, but veterans can sign up for any of the flights.
Wheaton said she has not been the Veterans Service officer very long, and found out about the Holleys’ efforts in an e-mail to her predecessor. She jumped at the idea of a joint effort, and said her initial plan is to contact all the veterans’ organizations in Licking County asking for donations and distributing information. Her positions with the VFW and the service office will make that part of the effort easier.
“I recently talked to a World War II veteran who had made the trip,” Wheaton said, “And he described it as a ‘wonderful experience’ and was so glad he went.
“I understand there’s no waiting list this year so it’s the perfect opportunity to go.”
The involvement of John and Diane Holley with Honor Flight goes back a few years to the “Field of Flags” fundraiser where he bought a flag in honor of his father. A guest speaker talked about Honor Flight and its effort to help veterans visit the World War II memorial. They were seeking help greeting veterans as they returned from the Honor Flights.
“We went and greeted and got involved from there,” John said. They attended more ceremonies and started volunteering to help with departures as well.
Last year they became involved in fund raising and helped collect more than $16,000, receiving donations from everyone from school children to large corporations.
They also signed up veterans for flights. Of 25 they registered, 22 went to Washington, D.C., on a flight on Sept. 18. Other local veterans took other flights.
“I served as a guardian on that flight, along with Willie Pritchett, who has since died.
“We’re doing this in his honor. He was an Army veteran of Korea,” Holley said.
Using charter flights is a change from previous years.
“It’s easier,” Holley said. “We have the whole plane available and can take up to 90 vets at one time.”
“We would like to raise enough money to cover the cost of sending at least as many veterans to Washington as went last year,” Holley said. “If we raise at least $16,000 that would cover the cost of 35 veterans making the trip.”
Veterans from Licking and Knox counties do not have to sign up for the October trip, they can sign up for any of the five flights. The organizers will try to accommodate preferences, but first priority goes to veterans who are terminally ill, Holley explained.
Organizations that want to arrange for a presentation about Honor Flight or someone who wants to make a donation or sign up a veteran, can call John Holley at 392-4593 or visit www.honorflightcolumbus.org. Checks should be made out to Honor Flight Columbus and put Knox or Licking County on the memo line so the local effort and the October flight are credited.