In 2004, the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC was dedicated to honor the Greatest Generation, those men and women who fought and sacrificed in the service of our country. The youngest survivors of that war are now in their late seventies, and many of them will never have the opportunity to visit the memorial this country has created for them. Honor Air was the creation of the Rotary Club of Hendersonville, NC. That club sponsored three separate one-day trips to the Memorial in 2006, and three more in 2007, providing many Henderson County veterans that opportunity. The program has been featured on Sixty Minutes and other network programs. Other Rotary clubs in the district have teamed up with the Hendersonville Club to sponsor veterans and provide funding and guardians to escort the veterans on the trip. Hickory Rotary club’s mission is to send Catawba County WWII Veterans on Honor Air flights to see their memorial in Washington DC at no cost to them.
WWI Memorial Plaza
Honor Air 2011
In November 2011, our club sponsored 2 more veterans who were escorted and chaperoned by club member Clarence Pugh. Below is Clarence’s account of the trip.
Our trip departed by bus for the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport from the Renaissance Hotel in Asheville at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 8. Dixon Adams and Ramon Rubins of Conover, along with Jim Pritchard of Hiddenite and I (as guardian) drove up on Monday afternoon and were provided complimentary rooms in order to be ready to leave early Tuesday. After picking up additional participants in Hendersonville, there were approximately 50 in our delegation from District 7670 and we had a police escort for our entire trip to the airport, arriving at approximately 8:15. We were greeted with a rousing welcome from military and law enforcement teams and were escorted through security without any delay by simply providing a picture I.D. and being checked off the manifest roster. Upon arriving at our departure gate, we were joined by two other delegations from the Upper South Carolina region, making a total of approximately 145 on this chartered flight sponsored by U. S. Air who has made Honor Air a special service project for the company.
Departing the airport at approximately 9:00 a.m., we arrived at Reagan Airport in D.C. at approximately 10:30 a.m. and once again, we received a ‘military welcome’–all these were most enthusiastic and genuine and stirred lots of emotion for everyone. We then climbed aboard 3 different buses with each delegation remaining together and were joined by a local ‘step-on’ tour guide who was extremely knowledgeable of the city and all its history.
Our first stop was the World War II Memorial, where Senator Richard Burr greeted us as we departed the bus. In addition, former Senators Robert and Elizabeth “Liddy” Dole greeted the veterans. Our veterans Adams and Rubins had their pictures taken with each of them and I was honored to be their camera man. Our bus had approximately 30 wheel chairs available for use by any veterans who had problems with mobility. Fortunately, our two men are in good condition, compared with many on the trip and used a wheel chair very sparingly. We spent about l-1/2 hours at the memorial which features highlights of the war from both the European and Pacific theatres. Over 400,000 men and women lost their lives. Upon returning to the bus, we had a box lunch while enjoying a ‘windshield’ tour of the city. Our guide was most impressive and did a great job of sharing history and stories related to buildings and places along the drive.
We returned to the general area of the World War II Memorial and toured the Korean, Vietnam and Lincoln Memorials. I think most of the veterans I talked to found the Korean setting to be the most impressive since it contains 19 full-size soldiers reflecting against a backdrop of black granite stone, thereby giving the image of 38 soldiers symbolizing the 38th parallel. It was also significant for me that we were able to locate our local Robin Gatwood’s name on the Vietnam wall. Upon returning to the bus, we drove across the bridge to the Iwo Jima Memorial and there made a group picture prior to going to Arlington Cemetery for the 5:00 p.m. “Changing of the Guard” (which is the last change of the day, after which all visitors must leave the grounds). One of the ‘off-duty’ guards took about 30 minutes of Q & A on the opposite side of the tomb and those insights were most interesting.
We returned to Reagan Airport for our 6:30 p.m. flight back to South Carolina and good-bye to our ‘step-on’ guide. We had a box supper on the plane, along with lots of snacks throughout the day, so it was impossible to lack for nourishment. Upon departing from the plane, we were escorted by a small group of well-wishers, only to be totally surprised and blown away. Upon heading to the ‘baggage claim’ area and our buses, the aisles were filled with area ROTC’s, local military troop units, law enforcement, outfitted in their dress uniforms, bands, etc. Each veteran was escorted to the top of the stairs/escalators to receive a personal cheer and thank you as he descended to the lower level. That was exciting and emotional to witness! While it was difficult to know the number, I would estimate there were at least 2,000 well-wishers from all walks of life, who were showing their true emotional gratitude for what these veterans have done for their nation. Certainly, this ‘Welcome Home’ was one that will stay with all of us for years to come. It was a great day and our trip back down the mountain was a short one since these veterans were all buzzing about the day. We got back to Hickory around mid-night on Tuesday.
I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to be on the trip and our thanks to all the leaders of Rotary, individuals and companies who made this trip and all the other trips possible. This project has to be among the finest ever taken on by Rotary. For me, the objective of the trip is summed up well in the ‘tee shirt’ message: IF YOU CAN READ, THANK A TEACHER. IF YOU CAN READ IN ENGLISH, THANK A VETERAN! Amen and God Bless America!
Honor Air 2008
Hickory Rotary Club sent eight WWII Veterans and three Guardians on the November 1st, 2008 Rotary District 7670 Cooperative Honor Air Flight. This one-day trip chartered a U.S. Airways flight from the Asheville Airport to Washington, DC, visited the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, witnessed the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery, and returned to Asheville, all in one day!
Forms and Downloads
(General Colin Powell (Coat, Blue Shirt, No Hat) Middle Rows, Right)