By Linda Collins
For the Fairborn Daily Herald
ENON — Enon-based Speedway LLC has extended a charitable arm to a Miami Valley non-profit organization.
On Thursday, Dec. 8, Beth Hunter, senior vice president of finance, ITS, and CFO, and Phil Hall, vice president of human resources and training at Speedway, presented a $4,000 check to Honor Flight Dayton Treasurer, Kelly Cox, during a brief ceremony at the North Xenia Drive Speedway.
According to Enon Village Councilman Rick Hanna, the donation will provide the necessary funds to fly approximately 10 war veterans to Washington, D.C.
Honor Flight Dayton, which is comprised strictly of volunteers, provides one-day trips at no cost to all qualified veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The trip includes airfare, bus transportation while in Washington, D.C., meals, T-shirts and disposable cameras.
Each Honor Flight day begins early in the morning at Dayton International Airport as veterans begin arriving around 4 a.m. and are paired with guardians who assist the veterans on the flight. A large crowd of well-wishers also gathers in the terminal to give the veterans a rousing sendoff. Upon arriving in Washington D.C., the veterans are greeted with a hero’s welcome from a cadre of cheering volunteers. During the daylong excursion, the veterans pay a special visit to the World War II, Korean, Vietnam, and Marines National War Memorials and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Upon their return to Dayton International Airport, the veterans receive another hero’s reception.
“Each trip usually involves 90-to-100 veterans and costs Honor Flight Dayton about $70,000 for the charter plane, buses, and a police escort throughout the day,” Hanna said. “Volunteer guardians pay their own way which is approximately $375.”
No detail is too small for the non-profit group. Throughout the year, volunteers contact local veterans, process their paperwork, enlist on-flight medical teams, arrange for food and guardians, and compile letters from local students for a “mail call” on the plane.
According to the Honor Flight Dayton official website, the local organization sponsored six charter flights and one, three-day recreational vehicle convoy for 56 World War II veterans, 111 Korean veterans, and 418 Vietnam veterans during 2016.
Currently, the group has two trips scheduled for the spring of 2017 — April 1 and 29. Hanna said donations would determine how many remaining flights would be scheduled for 2017.
“Honor flight originated here in Enon, Ohio, and Speedway’s support of this locally born project is great,” said Hanna.
Honor Flight was founded in 2005 by Enon resident Earl Morse, who wanted to honor World War II veterans by providing them with an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. and visit the $175 million memorial to more than 400,000 U.S. service members killed in World War II.
While working at the Department of Veteran Affairs medical clinic in Springfield, Morse, a physician’s assistant and retired U.S. Air Force captain, discovered that most of the veterans who were his patients were not able to make the trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the National World War II Memorial, dedicated in 2004. Since he was also a pilot, Morse offered to fly his father and one of his patients, 78-year-old World War II veteran Leonard Loy, in a rented Cessna.
After the Washington trip in December 2004, Morse enlisted the help of several pilot friends in Dayton. During an aero club meeting at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in January 2005, he outlined a volunteer program to fly senior World War II veterans to visit their war memorial at no cost to the veterans and asked the pilots to volunteer the use of their planes and their time. After Morse presented his plan, 11 pilots signed up, and the first official Honor Flight took place in May 2005 when six small planes flew 12 veterans to Washington, D.C.
During its first year in service, Honor Flight took 137 World War II veterans to visit their memorial. By 2006, the grassroots effort had spread across the country, donations had increased, and Morse began purchasing groups of tickets on commercial flights. The local organization eventually merged with HonorAir, a North Carolina group, and formed the Honor Flight Network. The mission of the organization also expanded to include veterans of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the terminally ill veterans of any armed conflict. Currently, Honor Flight has 130 hubs in 42 states and has flown more than 160,000 war veterans to Washington.
Morse and HonorAir founder Jeff Miller were awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008 for their extensive work with the program, and the Honor Flight program received the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s prestigious Milton Caniff “Spirit of Flight” Award in 2012.
Anyone who wishes to assist the efforts of Honor Flight can visit www.honorflight.org or contact Honor Flight Dayton at 937-322-4448.
Linda Collins is a freelance reporter for Greene County News.