Organizations: Honor Flight Fayette
“They say this is the greatest generation” says Michael Buckner. “You see these guys and what they did – it’s just incredible. They went into this war as kids and endured the things they did … . And when they came home it was not with a lot of fanfare.”
Six decades later, Buckner is doing his part – and then some – to provide a little fanfare for Georgia’s deserving World War II vets. He, along with like-minded Fayette County residents Gail Sparrow and Brenda Smith, founded Honor Flight Foundation of Fayette (HFF), an organization that exists for the sole purpose of flying vets – free of charge – for a daylong visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.
HFF’s maiden voyage last May flew 69 vets to DC. The travelers were greeted at the memorial by Georgia Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, as well as Kansas Sen. (and fellow vet) Bob Dole who spearheaded construction of the memorial. They also toured Arlington National Cemetery and saw the Iwo Jima monument; a few made special side trips to the Korea and Vietnam memorials.
Accompanying the vets were 26 so-called guardians (and 26 wheelchairs donated by a local medical supply company). As the name implies, these volunteers, who pay their own way, are trained to accompany the vets and act as escorts and all-around troubleshooters.
Buckner was inspired by a news story about Honor Flight, a similar group in Ohio, the nation’s first. Such groups – all part of a loosely linked national Honor Flight network – currently number 46 “hubs” in 31 states. Georgia also is home to The Roswell Rotary Club’s Honor Air and Honor Flight South Georgia in Valdosta, each of which flew vets to DC this spring.
Once established, the Fayette group quickly named a board and set about raising money for its $45,000-plus trip via school bake sales and other old-fashioned fund-raising efforts.
AirTran helped out with discounts and flexibility on the passenger list, arranged for the travelers to go through employee security at Hartsfield, and greeted the vets with a water cannon salute when the plane landed in DC.
Buckner says plans call for a second flight in September. At present, the group’s waiting list is 120 vets long, and more are signing up every day. Any vet is welcome – regardless of health. “Part of sense of urgency,” Buckner says, “is that we’re losing World War II vets at the rate of 1,200 a day.” – Shannon Wilder