Jeff Miller, founder of HonorAir.
By Pete Zamplas- The public is encouraged to give a hero’s welcome to area Korean War veterans this Saturday night, as they fly back from their turn for a one-day HonorFlight trip to see their memorial and other landmarks in Washington, D.C.
The American Airlines return flight from D.C. is due to arrive about 8:15 p.m. Saturday night, Sept. 24, in Asheville Regional Airport with hundreds on board.
“We want people to show up at the airport, to welcome them home,” said HonorAir founder Jeff Miller, who as usual will go on the trip as among volunteer chaperones.
The flight is booked, but another should be arranged for spring 2017, Miller noted. He raises funds from area businesses and other donors, to fully pay for each Korean veteran’s trip. Miller has estimated the cost as $500 per vet. This covers air and bus fares, and lunch in D.C. A doctor goes along. Care is given to meet each vet’s special medical, mobility or other needs and to break travel barriers that typically kept some from going to D.C..
This pivotal flight transitions Miller’s cause from flying solely veterans of World War II to those who fought in other wars — starting with the remembrance of the Korean conflict (1950-53), the “Forgotten War.” The Korean War Veterans Memorial went up in 1995. It includes a Mural Wall with sandblasted photo images of 38 combat soldiers, and shallow Pool of Remembrance. Korean War casualty numbers are listed. They include 54,246 Americans killed, 103,284 wounded, 7,140 captured and 8,177 missing.
Time is running out, as these veterans are in their eighties. Miller’s group also aids area vets, such as winter clothes. Coinciding with its new post-WWII flight mission, the local group goes by Blue Ridge Honor Flight as of Saturday.
WWII veterans can still fly on these trips, Miller noted, but by now most wanting to have already gone in the last decade. This weekend marks the ten-year anniversary of the first of dozens of flights Miller arranged with HonorAir then the unified Honor Flight Network. The nationwide effort in its first half-decade flew about 100,000 vets, including hundreds of locals. This is its 500th charter to D.C.
The Korean conflict was classified not as official war, but rather a U.S.-led United Nations “police action” against invasion by 75,000 North Korean soldiers of its southern neighbor. For a half-decade Korea had been free from Imperial Japan, which ruled it in 1910-45 until losing WWII. The Soviets moved into the North just before the war ended to stake claim, then the U.S. into the South. In 1948, Korea was officially split along the 38th Parallel.
After ousting the Nazis from Europe, the Allies let the Soviets occupy Eastern Europe by WWII’s end in ’45. Three years later, China went communist and the Cold War further simmered.
The new Cold War sizzled “hot” in a proxy war. Americans fought North Koreans, then Chinese troops which joined the fight four months in, and it was revealed even Russian covert MIG pilots in the first jet warfare.
History may be kinder, by now. At its close, much was made about the war as mere stalemate and first time the United States did not clearly win and destroy enemy force to reduce its future threat. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was fired by Pres. Truman, for leaking his lobbying to defy Chinese warnings and risk combat with them by advancing further into North Korea.
But 63 years later, South Korea is still sovereign in meeting a basic objective. There was armistice, but never a peace treaty. Tensions lingered over time, in this prime Cold War front line with perpetual concern North Korea might invade again. So far, it has not happened.
But risk escalated since 2009 when in defiance of sanctions North Korea boasted it developed a nuclear weapon, since expanding and flaunting its arsenal.
For more on Blue Ridge Honor Flight, call 1-866-224-4094 or check http://blueridgehonorflight.com/.