Yesterday, I was blessed with one of those experiences that makes me proud to be an American: greeting Peoria-area veterans visiting the memorials in our nation's capital. Proud to have met the 80 men and women who served our country in World War II and the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars. And proud because these heroes had been flown to Washington, DC, earlier in the morning thanks entirely to Greater Peoria Honor Flight volunteers.
Honor Flight is an exceptional organization, launched in January 2005 by Earl Morse, a Retired Air Force Captain who was at the time a Physician Assistant at the VA clinic in Springfield, Ohio. He was saddened that many of the WWII veterans using the clinic were unable to visit the newly opened National World War II Memorial. So Morse outlined a volunteer program to fly WWII veterans to the memorial.
He proposed two ideas. First, the veterans would pay nothing. The entire aircraft rental would have to be paid solely by the pilots, who would volunteer their services in the cockpit. Second, the pilots would personally escort the Veterans around D.C. the entire day. Quickly, 11 pilots who had never met Earl's patients volunteered. By the end of the year, so many veterans wanted to participate that Honor Flight began using commercial aircraft.
Since then, Honor Flights have flown from more than 120 cities across America.
Yesterday's group was the very first Honor Flight from Peoria, so it was a special honor to meet them at the WWII Memorial. It was even more special to me because I was joined by my dear friend and mentor Bob Michel, a fellow Peorian.
They also made an impression on the youngest Honor Flight Guardians on yesterday's trip, the four volunteers from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria.
Honor Flights are a terrific service to those who have served us so well. And the folks who make an event like this happen deserve thanks, not just from the veterans and their families, but from all of us.
So, my warmest thanks to all of the Greater Peoria Honor Flight volunteers--everyone who helped with arranging travel, communicating with area veterans, taking care of details, accompanying the Honor Flight passengers to DC, and fundraising. You make me--and Peoria-- proud.