Flag City Honor Flight Begins 2024 Season With 26th Flight

Army veteran Woody Woods is surrounded by proud family members after arriving home. PHOTOS BY AMY MANLEY
Air Force veteran Gerald Sandvik is flanked by family before leaving for the evening. Sandvik was accompanied during the day by St. Francis de Sales student guardian Ben Baker (not pictured). A group of students from the school served as guardians and received rave reviews for their service from the veterans.

BY AMY MANLEY | MIRROR REPORTER — April 23 was a banner day for Army veteran Butch Stewart. He celebrated his 75th birthday, traveled with 89 other veterans to Washington, D.C., on Flag City Honor Flight’s 26th flight and was assigned “an angel sent from above” in guardian Rick Steiner.  

More importantly, he was given a personal reminder that he made a difference. While at the memorials, he was approached by an elderly Korean couple who stopped to thank him for his service and for saving their country and gave him a prayer card to keep. 

The moving moment stayed with him. He recounted, “It was so beautiful. I did everything for my country that I could. I loved my time in the service. I was a little kid running around like an idiot when I left. When I came back, I was a man. It gave me purpose.”

Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the veterans and their purpose-driven lives. From the Flag City Honor Flight volunteers who are constantly working to improve and make each flight the best that it can be to the staff of Grand Aire and the family, friends and strangers who joined together in joyous celebration, the veterans left feeling loved and appreciated – a far cry from the reception that many of them received years ago.

While for many, it wasn’t their first time traveling to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials, it was their first experience doing it with others who also served, and many were overwhelmed by the emotions of the day.

Air Force veteran Danny Ranes, who was encouraged to apply for FCHF by fellow Maumee United Methodist Church parishioner and friend Mike Wood and was accompanied by son (guardian) Sean Ranes, noted, “It was totally different, so special. There were more than 100 kids just waiting to shake our hands and say, Thank you for your service.’ And those Honor Flight people, they are amazing. When they raised that garage door at the hangar, well … it was amazing.”

Air Force veteran Mike Wood said he was “totally blown away” by the evening festivities and added that every part of the Honor Flight experience was first-class from beginning to end. 

“To be right up front at the changing of the guard and look around and see us all, I am super-appreciative of all the efforts that were made on our behalf. There are so many people working to make it great – volunteers, guardians, church, family and friends,” he said. 

Wood was accompanied by his primary care provider nurse practitioner Lorrie Elchert, who volunteered to attend as his guardian, and was greeted by a large contingent of friends who attend Maumee United Methodist Church. 

Army veteran Woody Woods called the day “the most joyous day I have had in a very long time.” 

While many veterans credit the service for changing the trajectory of their lives by instilling values, teaching respect and discipline and creating purpose, FCHF continues along that line with veterans-turned-volunteers coming back because of the experience they had and want others to share. 

Vietnam Army veteran Kevin Swaim, who traveled on last year’s November flight, traveled with guardian and best friend Chip Ulimes from Lima to volunteer, and he wasn’t alone. Many veterans continue to serve, just in a different capacity, and the momentum of the organization grows and flourishes and leaves all who attend feeling better about the world if only for the day.

Flag City Honor Flight offers veterans a free day trip to the nation’s capital to see the war memorials built in their honor. 

Generous donations of money and time from individuals, civic organizations and businesses, along with an intense focus on the importance of honoring those who have served, keep this organization and its mission strong. All donations are tax-deductible. 

Guardians, who pay their own expenses, accompany the veterans to assist with wheelchairs, oxygen and other special needs. 

Veterans who wish to make the trip to Washing-ton, D.C., complete applications and are placed on the program’s waiting list, which takes individuals in order of conflict, age and application submission date. 

For veteran applications, to sign up as a guardian or for more information on sponsorship or volunteering, visit www.flagcityhonorflight.org or call (419) 595-0935. Donations may be sent to Flag City Honor Flight, P.O. Box 885, Findlay, OH 45839.

There are three remaining FCHF flights this year: June 11, September 10 and November 12. 

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