Home' Nonahood News : NONA 050116 Contents of the veterans during the trip.
Honor Flight was started in 2004 by
Jeff Miller, a small business owner, and
Earl Morse, a former Air Force Captain.
He started Honor Flight because he came
to the realization that many World War
II veterans would not be able to make it
to Washington on their own to see their
memorial, which was erected in 2004.
In May 2005, the first Honor Flight took
off from Hendersonville, N.C., using six
small planes and carrying 12 World War
II veterans to Washington, D.C.
As I arrive at Orlando International
Airport, all 50 veterans are lined up in
their wheelchairs with their guardians
standing behind them proudly. Every-
one is excited to head to the terminal,
but before they do, they need to “sound
off,” which is when everyone counts
loudly 1 to 50 to make sure everyone
is accounted for at each destination.
Ed Riordan, the Chairman of Honor
Flight, always leads the charge, shout-
ing, “One, Two, Three...”
After sound off, we then head over to
take the tram to the gate. As our veterans
go through the TSA checkpoint, they are
greeted by cheers and questions by the
other travelers who are at the airport.
When we first arrived at the termi-
nal, I met Rosario DiMaggio, who was
of the ini-
the island on Feb. 19, 1945. He was there
for two long months prior to moving on
to another island. Iwo Jima is still con-
sidered one of the bloodiest and costliest
of battles in Marine Corps history.
As our veterans leave Orlando In-
ternational Airport, they are on a short
flight to BWI (Baltimore), where they
are greeted by the cheers and applause
of several hundred Naval Academy Ca-
dets. Our veterans walk or are pushed
in their wheelchairs through a tunnel
of people on both sides giving high-
fives, shaking their hands and hearing
“thank you for your service” over and
over. The smiles on our veterans faces
literally go from ear to ear.
After a quick “sound off,” our veter-
ans board two buses and travel via U.S.
Marshal escort to the memorials that
have been erected in their honor. Our
first stop is the World War II Memo-
rial. As our veterans exit the bus, they
are immediately met with applause,
handshakes and an expression they
will hear all day long: “Thank you for
your service.” For the 24 veterans who
served during World War II, this is an
emotional time reflecting on lives lost
and being thrown into manhood at the
young age of 17, 18 and 19 years old.
From the World War II Memorial,
their guardians then push our veterans
to both the Korean and Vietnam War
Memorials. Once again, the veterans
are treated as heroes. For our Vietnam
veterans, many are getting the heroes’
welcome almost 40 years after they re-
turned. Many of our Vietnam veterans
weep as they see the beloved Vietnam
War Memorial with the names of the
soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
After touring all three war memo-
rials and a quick bite to
eat, our veterans head to
Arlington National Cem-
etery to see the Changing
of the Guard at the Tomb
of the Unknown Soldier.
Our veterans are quick
to get off the bus and are
taken to a special area so
they can see the chang-
ing of the guard from a special area for
those in wheelchairs. Before the cer-
emony begins, the soldier protecting the
site marches in place and is very me-
thodical: 21 steps up, 21 seconds facing
the Tomb of the Unknowns, 21 seconds
changing his weapon from one arm to
the other, 21 steps back, and is repeated
multiple times throughout the day.
As our veterans exit Arlington Nation-
al Cemetery, they make three more brief
stops before returning to Orlando. The Air
Force Memorial, the Pentagon Memorial
and the Marines Memorial (the raising of
the Flag at Iwo Jima) are all stops where
our veterans are greeted once again with
applause, handshakes and a plethora of
“thank you for your service.”
It’s time to return to Orlando, and after
a U.S. Marshal escort back to BWI (Balti-
more), a Southwest jet is filled with our
veterans and their guardians for what is
expected to be a quick flight home and
greeting by loved ones.
What they don’t know is that their
loved ones, as well as other veterans,
children, high school students, com-
munity members, neighbors and more
are waiting for them on the A-Side at
Orlando International. The crowd that
has swelled creates a human tunnel
for our veterans to pass through. The
crowd is a sea of red, white and blue.
Posters thanking our veterans for their
service are seen everywhere. American
flags are held by veterans who did not
fly on this trip.
As the Honor Flight veterans enter
the human tunnel, the applause is deaf-
ening and the tears are flowing. Stran-
gers thanking strangers for the right to
speak, to pray and to vote. Strangers
cheering our American heroes for their
courage, their service and their lives.
One last time, our Honor Flight veter-
ans go through a sea of people thank-
ing them for their service. As we left for
the day, I was able to thank Rosario, our
Iwo Jima survivor and veteran, one last
time for his service – he thanked and
reminded me – All Gave Some, Some
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Honor Flight Central Florida is a non-profit based in Orlando, FL . The goal is
to take 150 local veterans on an Honor Flight each year. That cannot happen
without the support of the local community. For more information about
being a guardian, signing up a veteran or donating, please visit www.honor-
flightcentralflorida.org or call 407-203-7010.
13 MAY 2016
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