Home Locations Asheville ‘Nam vets to go on Honor Flight to D.C. Oct. 6: Elder...

‘Nam vets to go on Honor Flight to D.C. Oct. 6: Elder vets also welcome

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Applications are open for veterans and guardians, for that flight and the next one on May 19, 2019. Seats are filling for these complimentary flights, put on by the Blue Ridge Honor Flight — formerly HonorAir, founded by Hendersonville civic leader Jeff Miller.

Vets will see monuments for WWII, Korean and Vietnam combat veterans; Iwo Jima, Navy and the Air Force; the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. The one-day trip is free for each veteran on it and include meals, as a “day of honor” for the veterans as thanks for their military “service and sacrifice.” Perks include police escorts of the tour buses, and priority parking, Miller said. “There’s no better way to see Washington” than on these tours.

As Miller notes, “All World War II and all Korean War veterans and Vietnam War veterans who were awarded or were eligible for the Korean Service Medal (Korean War Veterans) or the Vietnam Service Medal (Vietnam War veterans) are eligible for the free trip to visit their memorials in Washington, D.C.”

There are already 180 area veterans (mostly Vietnam era) on the waiting list, Miller said the other day. “We hope that 100 of those vets will get to go” Oct. 6, and the others in the next flight in spring, “if enough veterans serve as guardians” helping their peers. The chartered flight has 181 seats.

Initially, the chartered flights were for World War II vets. Figuring most he wanted to go have already gone, Miller two years ago shifted to Korean War veterans. Now, Vietnam vets are going. They comprise the bulk of veterans on upcoming flights. Nearly 20 Vietnam vets total went on earlier flights.

Even now, vets of earlier wars are welcome to go and can get priority at least for the waiting list in case of a cancellation, once passengers are chosen in coming days or weeks, Miller said. “They can slip in front, because of their age” and presumed narrower time window of opportunity to go to D.C. “Vietnam veterans told us to take them first. I bet we won’t have ten” elder vets. We’ll put them to the front of the wait list.”

Veterans should apply promptly. Those chosen for the flight are notified so at least three weeks ahead of it. Their seat is guaranteed, Miller emphasized. “We won’t bump out a Vietnam veteran for an older veteran,” nor anyone else.

Only first-timer vets in the program are eligible to go. Miller emphasized by providing one trip per veteran, it reaches more vets. Everybody needs to have his or her own experience.” Vets living in Henderson County have gotten priority, and Asheville-area vets have also gone instead of those living further away.

A major objective is to assist local vets with “financial or physical limitations” — even those on oxygen or wheelchair-bound — who thus were apt to not otherwise manage to go to D.C., Miller emphasized.

HonorFlight is community-based. A welcome home reception is planned for those on the one-day trip, on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 8-10 p.m. at Asheville Regional Airport. The public is encouraged to attend.

Fundraising is thus pivotal. The fast-rising rock band The Broadcast of Asheville will perform in concert to benefit Honor flights. That is Thursday, Aug. 9, 5-10 p.m. at Bold Rock Hard Cider at 72 School House Rd. in Mills River near N.C. 191. Up Dog is the opening act. The main sponsor is Rockcliff Oral and Facial Surgery & Dental Implant Center in Asheville. There is no cover charge; donations are encouraged.

Then a swing dance for Honor Flight with music by Russ Wilson and his Famous Orchestra will be Saturday, Sept. 15, 7-9 p.m. in Hendersonville Elks Lodge. The lodge is at 546 N. Justice St., in Hendersonville. Free swing dance lessons are 6-7 p.m. The dance’s admission is free; donations are encouraged.

Local individuals, businesses and groups came to bat financially for the veterans. Miller said the first three months of fundraising brought in $133,000, and $300,00 was raised by late ’07. Attorney Bob Haggard of Asheville stepped up, starting in 2007. As Asheville Rotary Club president, he got the club to financially sponsor three flights for Buncombe County veterans then 10 more for WNC vets.

For years and currently, State Sen. Chuck Edwards’ McDonalds restaurants provide complimentary breakfast to help launch the day. A boxed lunch is provided in D.C. amidst touring, and another meal is given in the airport ahead of the return flight. Miller noted that to this day, Honor Flight receives no government money.

Miller, a Hendersonville City Council member and dry cleaning business operator, started HonorAir 13 years ago in 2005 — a year after the World War II Memorial opened — so WWII vets of the “Greatest Generation” could see the monument for their sacrifice. It has separate sections for the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

His maternal uncle, 2nd Lt. H.B. Drake, was a B-24 bomber pilot. He died in the war when shot down over Czechoslovakia, in a bombing raid. Miller is a charter member of the National World War II Memorial Foundation.

HonorAir made it onto “CBS Sunday Morning” in ’06. Miller merged it with a similar group based in Ohio, into the National Honor Flight Network in ‘07. The local branch he began has been called Blue Ridge Honor Flight for two years. Miller flew across the nation on “hundreds of flights, to teach others how” to set up Honor Flight chapters and handle flights. Honor Flights are out of 42 states and 133 airport hubs.

There was one local Honor flight in 2016 then two last year, two this year, and plans are for two to three flights per year going forward and out of Asheville, he noted. When a main Asheville Regional Airport runway was under repair, the flight in April instead was out of Greenville-Spartanburg. This upcoming flight is the 28th Honor excursion out of Asheville, Miller noted.

The initial flight was on a 737 jet with 220 passengers. About half of them were WWII vets with all from Henderson County. Miller prides having had a one-to-one ration of an elder vet to a “guardian” caretaker. More than 300 WWII vets went on three flights in late 2006. The tally doubled to 630 vets by late ‘07. Nationally, more than 200,000 vets have gone on over 500 Honor Flights. These days, the average WWII vet on these flights is 90 years old. Miller notes there are few still alive, Korean vets are also dwindling in numbers, and now most Vietnam vets are senior citizens.

Honor Flights have been on U.S. Airways and its merger affiliate American Airlines, which handles the next local flights.

Safety is paramount on these one-day trips. A wheelchair is on hand for each veteran, including those not wheelchair-bound but who need a rest break during the day-long trip. The luxury tour buses have wheelchair lifts.

The vet application includes a medical form. A vet requiring oxygen must submit to Honor Flight a health care provider’s prescription for oxygen use on the trip. It must ID the “delivery method (mask or nasal cannula), frequency (as needed or continuously), and the rate of delivery (liters per minute). Honor Flight will provide the veteran with the oxygen concentrator for the flight, as well as the bottled oxygen for the day.”

Although “most Vietnam vets are mobile, not all are,” Miller said. “Many have agent orange issues, respiratory soft tissue” concerns. But they also get to go. “We’ve taken some very ill veterans,” Miller said. However, “if they don’t need a guardian, they don’t get to bring one. We’re looking for veterans to be guardians for other veterans” so more vets go.

Each flight has at least one doctor (this next one has two), four to six EMS workers, and 50-60 trip guardians. A guardian must be age 18-75, and able to “easily” lift 100 pounds of immobile weight. Roles include helping the vet along stairs and in and out of wheelchairs, pushing those chairs, helping a vet up and down steps, and getting them food and refreshments. Beyond safety, it is to “bring some comfort,” Miller added.

A guardian pays airfare of $400 per Honor Flight, and gets trained. Priority to choosing guardians goes to doctors and nurses, active-duty military, and Honor volunteers proven on prior flights. Numbers are limited for vets’ relatives to serve as guardians. They are encouraged to apply, and should specify the vet he or she wants to assist. Each vet has no more than one guardian assigned. WWII vets typically each had a guardian. With younger ‘Nam vets, the ratio is more at four vets per guardian. This enables flying many more vets per flight than before, Miller noted.

Anyone wanting to travel on his own but join the tour group can arrange to do so, and buy a boxed lunch for $10. Miller said a few extra bus seats are usually open.

The WWII Memorial is split between the Atlantic/European and Pacific/Asian theaters. The Honor tour dedicates two hours there. The Korean memorial went up in 1995, and the two-acre Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982 during the Ronald Reagan presidency.

The Korean conflict (1950-53) is tabbed as the “Forgotten War,” starting a mere half-decade after the end of fabled WWII and ending in military stalemate. Miller asserts instead that socio-politically, “Korean is the forgotten victory. South Korea is a free country, and the 11th strongest economy of the world instead of under North Korean tyranny.”

Vietnam veterans had an even tougher readjustment when back home, amidst the fervent anti-war movement and tag of the rare U.S. loss in a war, Miller noted. Miller, who turns 64 this year, is a Baby Boomer like ‘Nam vets. He said he was going to join the military for Vietnam, but yielded to his father’s wishes to instead go to college.

“They stopped the draft” just ahead of his graduation in 1972 from Hendersonville High School. ”I wanted to go into the military.” He went to East Carolina, and graduated from “App State” with a rec management degree.

He said he and his friends in Hendersonville remained patriotic in the Sixties and beyond. While in college, some friends opposed the war but did not protest let alone at a more “obnoxious” level.

Above all, he objected to the “baby killer” label tagged on all vets as over-reaction to the infamous “My Lai Massacre” of South Vietnamese unarmed civilians (suspected of Viet Cong affiliation) in ‘68 by Lt. William Calley’s unit. “That’s just not fair,” he said. “Vietnam was a very unpopular war, as opposed to a forgotten one (Korea)” or hero’s welcome after WWII.

Many Vietnam vets “disappeared into the shadows” for decades, he said. “Many committed suicide,” while others have dealt with severe trauma issues. For years it was frowned on if they “took pride in wearing their (military) hats.” That has changed in recent decades, and moreso in patriotic Henderson County.

“We’re honored to give them a day in D.C., to let them tour their memorial,” Miller said. “It’s also an opportunity for people to welcome them home.” He said 800 people is a typical welcoming crowd at he airport.

“You can’t make bad memories go away. But you can give new, good memories that are more powerful,” Miller said. He cited testimonies from Vietnam vets after Honor Flights. One said he “left a lot of stuff (bad memories) back there,” in cathartic relief. “It’s a step toward healing.”

For more info, call (866) 224-4094 or check http://blueridgehonorflight.com/

To apply for the flight, go to: https://blueridgehonorflight.com/apply-now.html

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