It is my pleasure to tell you about Honor Flight, an all-volunteer organization that honors United States veterans. Collier-Lee Honor Flight is one of several local Honor Flight groups located throughout the U.S. in various cities and counties. Each group plans one-day trips for local veterans to visit Washington, D.C. and its significant military memorials. During these visits, the veterans are showered with appreciation for their service. The veterans are well taken care of from start to finish. They hear enthusiastic gratitude from well-wishers everywhere who exclaim the meaningful and beautiful words: “Thank you for your service!” and “Thank you for giving us our freedom!”
Our local Collier-Lee Honor Flight, established in 2013, has made 17 one-day trips (“missions”) from Fort Myers (RSW) to Washington D.C. (DCA). On each mission, there are 75 local veterans from Collier and Lee counties; most served in World War II and Korea, some in Vietnam. Each veteran is assigned a dedicated volunteer guardian. On May 5, 2018, I had the incredible experience—an honor, for sure!—of being a guardian for a wonderful veteran on a Collier-Lee Honor Flight trip. It is a day I shall cherish forever!
We flew to/from Washington, D.C. on an American Airlines chartered jet, departing RSW at 6:00 a.m., returning at 9:00 p.m. The entire flight crew volunteered their time and expertise for the cause. They were extraordinarily accommodating, and set the tone for the veterans to experience a day of appreciation. The inside of the plane was decorated with American flags, red-white-and-blue streamers, and large cutouts of stars. Prior to landing in Washington, the song “Proud to be an American” was played over the loud speaker. Very moving!
The veterans were warmly greeted throughout the day, starting the moment they were off the plane at Reagan Airport. There were bands playing patriotic music, random passengers coming up to the veterans saying “Thank you!” large American flags seen throughout the airport, and children’s groups holding handmade “welcome” posters. Chartered buses drove our group throughout D.C., complete with police escorts. The veterans experienced meaningful visits to four national military memorials: the World War II Memorial, the U.S. Air Force Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Our group also visited Arlington National Cemetery to view the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The day was a long one, capped off by a tremendous welcome-home gala in the Fort Myers airport; over 1,000 people had gathered to cheer and greet the returning veterans. But none of the travelers appeared tired. These veterans were buoyed by the appreciation they received throughout the day, and by viewing the beautiful memorials that many of them never thought they would ever see.
I am filled with awe upon being a guardian with Collier-Lee Honor Flight and meeting so many wonderful veterans. The experience has left me with an abundance of gratitude for those who served in our military and who truly did “give us our freedom!” It is an honor to be a part of the Collier-Lee Honor Fight!
Collier-Lee Honor Flight is run totally by volunteers and relies on many people pitching in with time and monetary contributions. There are several ways to volunteer, all mentioned on their website: https://www.collierhonorflight.org/
Editor’s Note: Peggy’s veteran, Jerry Godbout, passed away three weeks after his return, at age 74. His doctor knew he was terminal and urged him to take this trip. The experience enabled Peggy to become close to Jerry’s widow. He was a veteran of the Vietnam war.