BY AMY MANLEY | MIRROR REPORTER — On Tuesday, November 7, while local elections and state issues were center stage in Ohio and across the country, Flag City Honor Flight No. 25 took flight. Aboard were 87 veterans who once served to protect those very freedoms.
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.
While each flight is fresh and new for those in attendance, Flag City Honor Flight has everything – the training, volunteer coordination and timetable – down to a science after having served more than 1,600 veterans prior to this flight.
The morning festivities in Grand Aire Hangar at Toledo Express Airport begin with all the regular amenities, including a warm welcome from volunteers, breakfast, the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem and invocation prior to boarding.
While those participating in the event were the honorees, many veterans had their minds on those who never came home. Veterans talked of searching for friends, cousins and brothers on the Wall of Remembrance at the Korea War Memorial as well as on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.
For Vietnam Marine veteran Harold Bacon, the day was 53 years in the making. His good friend and pastor, Deb Helton, joined him as a guardian. Helton carried a list of names to help Bacon locate on each wall. She was intent on making the day perfect for him.
“He is very humble. He just loves his country and it’s so important to give him this day,” Helton said of Bacon.
Proud beyond measure to have served his country, despite the personal cost – suffering from lingering health problems and longing for family no longer here – Bacon extolled the virtues of serving. He quoted President John F. Kennedy with “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” He talked about the opportunity to serve in peacetime in order to be prepared for possible conflicts and emphasized the importance of it in these tumultuous times.
Longtime friends Vietnam Navy veteran Jerry Sahagian and Vietnam Air Force veteran Phil Kaufman agreed about the importance of serving, saying it “teaches self-discipline and respect for others.” Sahagian noted that if more served, there might be less talk about current events with “no knowledge of history.”
Vietnam Army veteran Kevin Swaim talked about how serving changed his life.
“I was a long-haired wild kid. It set me on a different path, taught me to be proud of my country, appreciative of others and grateful for all the freedoms I have,” he said.
Gratitude was definitely the word of the day as each veteran passed through the flag line staffed by members of the West Unity American Legion Riders on the tarmac. As they entered the plane, the veterans heard kind words, sincere thanks and wishes for a wonderful day. The flight passed through the traditional water arch as it exited the runway and the veterans were on their way.
Featured stops during the one-day trip included the National Mall, the Marine Corps Memorial, changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cem-etery, each branch’s war memorial and the Military Women’s Memorial.
While veterans enjoyed their day, volunteers from Flag City Honor Flight finished preparations for their arrival back in Toledo.
Many veterans were emotional and surprised at the scale of the celebration waiting for them at Grand Aire. The veterans were greeted by Black Swamp Pipes and Drums and a mail call with letters of gratitude included in each package. Hundreds of guests held signs, waved and hugged the veterans – leaving each honoree feeling appreciated and proud.
Many expressed desire to encourage other veterans to apply for the flight. Others plan to come back and volunteer themselves. Air Force veteran Tom Schuster said, “I’ve already made contact with a Korea War Veteran I know that needs to go.”
Noting this day was on his “bucket list,” Swaim said, “I get something in my heart, and I am touched and moved by it and I run with it, and I intend to do that with this … this touches many with recognition and appreciation long overdue.”
Veterans who wish to make the trip to Washington, 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.