Honor Flight of KC Gives Veterans A Flight to Remember
Photographer Valerie Anderson captures raw emotion as America’s veterans take “one more tour.”
“We can’t all be heroes, because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by” is attributed to the beloved American humorist Will Rogers. One nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring America’s heroes is the Honor Flight Network, a volunteer-based organization that provides free air transportation to our veterans to Washington, D.C. so they can visit the war memorials in our nation’s capital.
From HFN’s humble beginnings in Ohio in 2004, 130 Honor Flight hubs (chapters) have grown in 42 states. The Kansas City area has 11 hubs that fly from KCI. To date, the HFN has flown more than 150,000 veterans to the Washington, D.C. memorials, it and continues to find new ways to serve our country’s heroes.
HONOR FLIGHT ORIGINS
Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain, had been thinking of a way to do something special for the veterans that he cared for in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. When the National World War II Memorial was completed in 2004, it became a big conversation topic for him and his patients, who were primarily veterans of WWII.
When he realized that most of the men he treated would probably never get to see the memorial constructed to honor them, Morse took the initiative to arrange for six small planes to transport 12 veterans to see the newly dedicated memorial in Washington, D.C. By doing do, he gave life to the Honor Flight program. Soon after, HFN began working with commercial airlines to accommodate an ever-growing waiting list of veterans, which currently numbers more than 21,000.
"It’s what we call 'the trip of a lifetime,'” says Scott Sheridan, vice president of the Honor Flight Network of Kansas City. "We offer veterans a one-day, expenses-paid excursion to see the national memorials. It’s the best way to honor their service and sacrifice."
WWII veterans are currently passing away at a rate of 372 each day, so top priority is given to senior veterans (WWII and Korean War survivors), as well as to terminally ill veterans from other wars, though the organization’s mission is expanding to include others who have served our country. HFN’s efforts are ever-pressed with a sense of urgency.
Sheridan acknowledges the accomplishments of all those who serve our country but remains duly impressed by the veterans of World War II and the Korean War.
"They really changed the course of history, and did so out of duty," Sheridan says. "They were humble about it, quietly came home and didn’t ask for anything. They did what they had to do. What we do is a small way to say ‘thank you,’ by taking them to the space that’s been created to honor them and even provide some healing for many of them."
A few HFN hubs (including Kansas City) also offer “Flightless Honor Flights,” which are simulated tours to veterans who aren’t physically able to make the trip. Included are “flight briefings,” video tours and a “welcome home” party. The Kansas City HFN hub partners with Liberty Memorial and Union Station to offer Kansas City’s version of the Flightless Honor Flights.
valerie anderson (left), Joe (Middle), Aubrey (Right)
HONOR FLIGHT IN FAMILY MEMORIES AND PHOTOS
One Kansas Citian who has been involved as a volunteer photographer for the Kansas City hub is Valerie Anderson. Since September 2014, Anderson has been on nine Honor Flights, including two Flightless Honor Flights. She’s also had the unique experiencing of participating in an Honor Flight with her father, Joe, a Vietnam War veteran, as well as her daughter, Aubrey, who flew as his guardian.
Aside from the Honor Flight with her father and daughter, Anderson recalls fond memories from other trips.
“On this one flight, a man asked me about my camera,” Anderson says. “He said he had worked for Kodak for almost 60 years after he got home from the war. It turns out he had served as an army photographer who had gone on a night mission over the Normandy coast to photograph German locations, and of the six planes that went on the photograph mission, his plane was one of only two that made it back. The images he took that night ended up being a deciding factor in exactly where on the expansive beach the Allies would strategically land on D-Day.”
Another favorite experience of Anderson’s involved a WWII Coast Guard veteran.
“I felt strongly that I should take a special sort of portrait of her, which I normally don’t,” Anderson says. “I am glad that I did because she died a few weeks after our trip.”
For Anderson, each trip means a grueling but rewarding day. She looks forward to staying with the program “for as long as they will have [her].”
“I do this to honor the veterans’ service, knowing how thrilled their families are for them, and to have the photos as a memory. The flight with my dad and daughter was a high point, especially because of their special bond. To see them together, my father experiencing something he holds to be so sacred, is still so tender.”
The Honor Flight Network of Kansas City’s Flightless Honor Flight will take place on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. For more information about the Honor Flight Network, visit honorflight.org.