Photo gallery below article.
In the nation’s Capitol, they are treated as celebrities or rock stars. Young people approach to shake their hands or give them hugs while young men and women in uniform chat with them as peers with deep respect visible in their eyes and on their faces. Whenever possible, members of Congress show up to greet them. They are veterans of World War II on honor flights, the result of efforts made by communities, residents and businesses to allow the veterans to see the memorial built in their honor.
On May 7, Honor Flight of West Central Florida completed their 10th mission to the World War II and other memorials in Washington, ferrying 79 WWII veterans up and back on the same day from St. Petersburg / Clearwater International Airport aboard a chartered Allegiant Airlines jet.
Sons and daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren, students in ROTC uniforms, members of the various branches of the military, including officers from U.S. Central Command at MacDill, friends, neighbors, Patriot Guard riders and even bagpipers were at the airport late that night to welcome them home, an estimated 600 people in all.
“This is probably the biggest night some of these guys have had in 68 years,” said one volunteer.
Despite the long day of travel, the veterans appeared energized by their overwhelming welcome home. Nearly everyone in the crowd reached out to shake their hands and thank them for their service. In response, many of the veterans smiled and simply said, “Thank you for being here.” The wife of one veteran jokingly worried that her husband, upon seeing the hundreds of people cheer for him, would forget that he still has to take out the trash at home.
According to Honor Flight of West Central Florida, eight south and east Hillsborough County veterans were onboard for this mission. Riverview veterans include John Mayhall, Thomas Palmer and Marion Seigler. Veterans from Sun City Center include Allen Duncanson, James Hawthorne, Paul Monnette, Donald Phillips and Walter Dunn.
Honor Flight of West Central Florida is operated entirely by volunteers and is facing pressure from the passage of time. The youngest WWII veterans are 85 years old, with an average age of 90. The organization estimates there are approximately 32,000 WWII veterans in their service area, which includes the Tampa Bay Area. According to the organization, nearly 500 veterans are on a waiting list for future flights, with the next planned for early June. Donations from businesses and individuals will be required to make the future flights possible.
The National World War II Memorial, located on the National Mall next to the Reflecting Pool and between the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, was completed in 2004, nearly 60 years after the end of the war. More than 4.4 million people visit the memorial each year.
According to organizers, donations from several area businesses were instrumental in allowing the 10th Honor Flight to take off, including Mosaic, Walmart, the Brandon area Chick-Fil-A, the Osprey Observer and the FishHawk Barbershop on Boyette Road in Riverview. A donation of approximately $400 will cover the trip for one veteran.
To donate, sign up for a future Honor Flight, volunteer, or for more information, visit www.honorflightwcf.org. Every dollar donated goes entirely towards the transportation of the veterans to the memorial.