Area veterans participate in Heights' sixth Honor Flight
On each of Jackson Heights High School’s five Honor Flights, stepping off the plane at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and being greeted by national Honor Flight and USO volunteers before heading into Washington, D.C., has been a joyful moment for participating veterans.
But for Vietnam War veterans participating in the school’s sixth Honor Flight on Thursday — the first such trip made involving veterans of that war — it took on a special significance.
“A couple of them told me, ‘I’ve never been thanked for my service.’ That really was meaningful to them,” said Adrianne Walsh, Jackson Heights superintendent and grade school principal of Vietnam veterans’ reactions to being greeted after landing at BWI that morning.
A total of 29 veterans and 19 student “guardians” were part of a long day that, for most of them, began at 2:30 a.m. and ended nearly 22 hours later — the longest single-day JHHS Honor Flight excursion due to the addition of one stop not made on previous Honor Flights. That stop was the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, a stop that both veterans and students anticipated.
“It’s an honor to be in the first Honor Flight group from Jackson Heights to be able to do this,” said JHHS senior Logan Rethman of the Arlington stop. “You could come and see this on your own, but to come and see it with the veterans is really an honor.”
Walsh agreed, noting before stopping at the Tomb of the Unknowns that not many Honor Flight groups were invited to stop and watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony there. She also noted that she would try to work the ceremony into future Honor Flights if possible.
“Some of the veterans I talked to on the way home said that was the number one thing for them,” Walsh said of the Changing of the Guard observance.
Much of Thursday’s Honor Flight itinerary matched that of previous trips to D.C., including appreciative receptions at both BWI and Kansas City International Airport, along with visits to the World War II and Korean and Vietnam war memorials and the Lincoln Monument. For many participants, it was either their first time visiting the nation’s capital, or their first time back in several years.
Roy Hale of Mayetta, who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and worked at the Pentagon half a century ago, was in the latter category, but found what he saw in D.C. to be very impressive.
“This is all new, and it’s quite a treat for me,” said Hale, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force while at the World War II memorial.
Hale and U.S. Army veteran Melvin Wells of Holton, who also participated in the Korean War, agreed.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen it. It’s awesome,” Wells said.
Wells, Hale and Rethman — who served as a guardian to both veterans — attempted to figure out the order of the placement of U.S. states on the pillars at the memorial, but Steve Hazelton, a U.S. Park Service officer on duty at the memorial, helped to set them straight. States were arranged by their chronological entry into the Union, Hazelton said, followed by U.S. territories in the order that they were recognized as such.
U.S. Park Service personnel also provided veterans with good company at other stops on the trip. Jack Pittaway of Holton and Les Crawshaw of Mayetta, among others, were seen chatting with Lincoln Monument officer Jason Barna, who gave them information about the memorial and shared funny stories about experiences he had as an officer at the monument.
For others, it was a family affair. JHHS students Braden Dohl and Maggie Rostetter enjoyed the company of their respective grandfathers, Larry Amon of Netawaka and Clifton Johnson of Nortonville, during their visit to the capital city.
And while wheelchairs were provided for older veterans who needed a little assistance in getting around, most of the participating veterans enjoyed walking around the National Mall and other stops on the trip on their own.
“It’s the most healthy group we’ve taken,” Walsh said of the participating veterans.
Plans for a possible seventh Honor Flight at JHHS “depend on funding,” Walsh noted, and each trip costs about $12,000. But with that number in mind, she noted that there is more than one-quarter of that amount available to help pay for the next trip.
“We’re definitely not starting at ground zero,” she said. “I’m sure most people are aware that school funds do not pay for these trips, and I am very grateful for the patrons who support this program.”
To learn more about the program at Jackson Heights or make a donation to the local program, call Walsh at 364-2194. For information on the national Honor Flight program, visit www.honorflight.org