Will Rogers is known for saying—“We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.”
Imagine standing at the base of a monument, and, for one silent moment, remembering a time gone by, friends that didn’t come home, and a cause greater than oneself. For many Veterans that is the experience and the joy of taking an Honor Flight to Washington, DC, to see the monument that was erected for their heroic service to our country.
For the past four years, Southwest Airlines has been lucky enough to be a part of making these Veterans’ dreams come true as the official commercial airline of Honor Flight and to date has donated more than $2 million to connect more than 4,500 WWII Veterans with their memorial in Washington D.C. Today, we are excited to announce that we have renewed our support of Honor Flight, donating more than $1.2 million in travel over the next three years. This relationship with Honor Flight is especially close to my heart, because my own dad was able to take an Honor Flight and visit his memorial in Washington D.C. last Veteran’s Day.
The Honor Flight Network formed in 2005 with the mission of ensuring that every World War II and terminally ill Veteran could experience honorable recognition and find closure surrounding their service by visiting the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Time is not on their side as it is estimated that there are 800 to 900 WWII Veterans passing each day. The 117 Honor Flight Hubs scattered across the nation are committed to making the pilgrimage to Washington and helping these Veterans.
Through their Honor Flight experience, Veterans are showered with appreciation and applause in airports, on bus rides, at hotels, and along the Memorial route. Many stop and salute. It isn’t unusual for a Southwest Honor Flight to be greeted with a water canon salute from the D.C. Fire Department upon arrival.
Many of our Southwest Airlines family members have experienced these Honor Flights when Veterans are traveling and in our care, and their sentiment is the same – what an honor to help, serve, and be around these Veterans.
Here are just a few recollections from Southwest Employees, starting with my very own:
My 89-year-old father, Francis Sandall, took his Honor Flight last year on Veteran’s Day, Dad’s voice chokes with emotion when he shared with me, “Going on an Honor Flight was a tremendous experience, and one I never expected to do. I wholeheartedly agree that every Veteran should experience an Honor Flight.”
Louisville Customer Service Agent Julia Adams looks forward to every opportunity to work an Honor Flight. “We just hug the Veterans and joke around with them—enjoying quite a few laughs!”
Recently, Community Relations & Giving Employee Amber Montelongo was on her way home and her flight was an Honor Flight that was filled with happy, light-hearted Vets who were tired from their amazing trip to Washington, D.C., but not too tired to crack jokes with the Passengers around them.
San Antonio Customer Service Manager Nancy Newsom is the airport liaison for all Honor Flights from here, and “we decorate the gates with patriotic flair and give these heroes a proper send off! I was invited to go as a Guardian last August and was the Guardian for two Vets, Ernie and Bill. My guys were just wonderful, and I loved to hear their stories. I'm also going on the next Honor Flight along with my Teammate Donna Peterson and her husband. I'm so proud of Southwest Airlines for their heart and commitment to the military and this wonderful organization.”
Reno Cargo Agent and Honor Flight Reno Founder Jon Yuspa shared, "Its closure to their service and it opens a whole new chapter to friends and family who sometimes did not even know their loved one had honorably served. Some Vets talk about this being one of the single greatest days of their lives."
Southwest has a long history of supporting those who have fought for our country’s freedoms, and it gives me great joy to see our Company give back to these heroes. Jim McLaughlin, Honor Flight Network’s Chairman, told me that he’s heard over and over from these Veterans that their Honor Flight experience is one of the greatest days of their lives. That’s all the reward we need.