A fitting tribute to WWII veterans

Richard Eckstrom, S.C. Comptroller

Hundreds of World War II veterans from South Carolina and their escorts arrived in Washington D.C. recently to visit the various monuments which have been erected in honor of those who have served, including “their memorial” - the World War II Memorial.

Upon arrival, they were met with flag-waving, applause and signs thanking them for their service.

The trip was sponsored by Honor Flight, a network of nonprofit organizations that fly the veterans – most of whom live on fixed incomes - to the nation’s capitol for free.

The Honor Flight program was born in 2004 when a retired Air Force Captain sought a way to express his gratitude for the service of World War II veterans. As a pilot, he offered to fly veterans one at a time to “their memorial,” so that those without the means to travel could experience the tribute. He was overwhelmed by their response. Many were emotional.

Soon after, the retired Captain reached out to other pilots to volunteer for an inaugural “Honor Flight.” Eleven volunteered, and in May 2005 six planes carrying 12 World War II veterans flew out of Springfield, Ohio to Washington, DC.

Since that time, the program has expanded across the country. Last year, nearly 18,000 veterans were taken to memorial as part of the Honor Flight program. There are Honor Flight chapters in the Upstate, the Lowcountry, Myrtle Beach and Columbia.

Honor Flights are financed by private donations and fundraisers. Civic clubs, student groups and scout troops pitch in to help defray costs.

The Honor Flights aren’t just limited to veterans of World War II. Those who served in the Vietnam and Korean Wars are now included.

The flights are day trips. The veterans are accompanied by “guardians” who assist in flight preparation and help ensure that each veteran has a safe, meaningful experience. The guardians are volunteers and pay their own way. I have been honored to volunteer in this capacity, and it is truly a unique experience.

Those who served our country during World War II deserve our deep appreciation. It is because of them that we remain strong as a nation enjoy the freedoms we all-too-often take for granted.

The World War II Memorial is a place of remembrance, solace and reflection for those who served in uniform during this war. While no memorial can ever adequately say “thanks” for those sacrifices, Honor Flight is certainly a fitting tribute, and a worthy cause.

For more information on Honor Flight, or to learn ways you can support this noble cause, visit www.honorflightsc.com or call (803) 582-8826.