by Kathy Marson
Walla Walla, Wash., October 23, 2014 - Ken Silver from the Northside Church in Walla Walla, Washington, and Paul Hellie from the University Church in College Place, both Korean War veterans, flew to Washington, D.C. October 8 for a two-day expense-paid trip arranged by the Honor Flight organization. Both Ken and Paul applied about a year ago to be a part of this venture.
Paul and Ken were part of a group of 90 veterans (45 World War II vets and 45 Korean War vets) from Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho who flew from Spokane to Washington D.C. Paul said, “We had a guardian who made sure we were safe on the trip.” Those serving as guardians paid their own expenses and took time off to travel with Honor Flight. Carrie Johnson, who works for the sheriff’s office, served as guardian for Paul and Ken.
Paul served in the Navy as a combatant on the USS Taussit. He was deployed three times, serving three years, nine months and 16 days – from age 19-23. To go on the Honor Flight tour was very touching. Paul said, “We had a good time, we were just like a bunch of brothers from the start. Being with the group was the most important thing.”
At the Korean War Memorial a young park ranger asked Paul about the ribbons on his hat. He knew nothing about the Korean War and Paul was able to share with him.
The group visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and witnessed the changing of the guard. The Marine Corps (Iwo Jima) Monument and the Air Force Monument were seen after their arrival Wednesday afternoon, and that evening the group was honored at a special banquet. Thursday they visited other monuments and museums, including the Women’s Memorial, the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Viet Nam War Memorial, and the Navy Memorial.
The memorial that stands out for Ken was the Korean War Memorial where fresh flowers are placed every day by the Korean Embassy. They are forever indebted to people like Paul and Ken for their freedom. If not for this “Forgotten War” they would have been like North Korea. “What really touched me,” said Ken, was a young boy in Spokane who made survival bracelets for all 90 veterans, using his own money. And in Washington D.C. a little kid, no more than nine-years old, broke away from his mom to run up to me and hug me and say thank you.”
The whole experience was very touching for Paul and Ken and all the veterans. “I can’t put it into words,” said Ken, “I can’t express the feeling it gave me to see the people I met on this flight.” This once-in-a-lifetime high spot for them was a time they felt the respect and honor given them by the country and men and women they had served.
HOW HONOR FLIGHTS BEGAN
Honor Flights began through Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force Captain. Earl wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for the past 27 years, but realized it wasn’t possible for them to make the journey. Most of these senior heroes were in their 80s and their families lacked resources and time to make a journey to the nation’s capital. The majority of veterans gave up hope of visiting the memorial created to honor their services, so Earl decided to find a way to get these heroes to D.C.
In December 2004 he asked his patient, Mr. Loy if he could personally fly him to D.C., free of charge, to visit his memorial. Mr. Loy broke down and cried, and graciously accepted the offer. Earl posed the same question to another World War II veteran a week later. He too cried and enthusiastically accepted the trip. Earl began asking other pilots to help make these dreams a reality. The two stipulations were that the veterans would pay nothing and that the pilots personally escort the veterans around D.C. for the day. Eleven pilots volunteered and Honor Flight was born.
The mission of the program spread across America and in 2008 Southwest Airlines donated thousands of free tickets and was named the official carrier of Honor Flights. By 2012 over 98,500 veterans were transported to Washington D.C.
Honor Flight serves veteran heroes who are not asking for recognition, but who deserve it. This program is a small token of our appreciation for those who gave so much. The philosophy behind Honor flights is that since America felt it was important to build a memorial to the service and the ultimate sacrifice of her veterans, the Honor Flight Network believes it’s equally important they actually get to visit and experience THEIR memorial.