The following is a guest post written by James McLaughlin, Chairman of The Honor Flight Network. He escorts the Lone Eagle and TLC (Their Last Chance) Veterans to Washington D.C. to visit their Memorial on Honor Flights.
On Saturday October 5, I had the pleasure of escorting a group of War Veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated in their honor, which pay tribute to their service and sacrifices in World War II for the sake of our freedom. These elderly veterans have been waiting for months for their turn on an Honor Flight. Due to the recent government shutdown, I was not sure what to expect, but I knew we could not pass up the opportunity for these vets.
Over the past several years, I have enjoyed escorting these groups to Washington from March through November. This group was primarily what we call “Lone Eagles,” the term used to identify individual Veterans located in cities that do not have one of the established Honor Flight Hubs located across the nation. As the Chairman of the Honor Flight Network, I always embrace the opportunity; however, this trip was different because the memorials might be closed, and our group, which had traveled some distance to be there, might be denied access. I truly did not know what to expect.
The site that greeted us upon arrival at the WWII Memorial was indeed different due to the barriers and the majestic water fountains being turned off. Lucky for us the National Park Service personnel had (previous to our arrival) opened the barriers to allow veterans and visitors access to the site. We were able to view the memorials and walk around the site unobstructed, including the Korean, Iwo Jima, Air Force, and Vietnam Memorials, which had previously been barricaded, but were also opened for our group. The Lincoln Memorial remained barricaded, and we did not gain entrance there. Though it was different, we accomplished what we set out to do with our Honor Flight.
I am truly grateful for the free flights provided to World War II Veterans by Southwest Airlines through their generous sponsorship to The Honor Flight Network. Over the past four years, Southwest has provided thousands of free flights for our veteran heroes, and the impact these WWII veterans experience visiting their Memorial and taking an Honor Flight is hard to describe. The most memorable comment that I hear often repeated is expressed at the conclusion of their trip …”This has been one of the greatest days of my life.” What more can you ask?Southwest Airlines is the official Commercial Carrier of The Honor Flight Network and provides tickets for veterans to fly on Southwest for their Honor Flight.