Did you know there is no apostrophe in the holiday titled Veterans Day? While many may write it as Veteran’s Day or Veterans’ Day, the holiday does not “belong” to one veteran or multiple veterans, which is what an apostrophe implies. It is considered as a day honoring all veterans.
For those who have never served, we can only imagine what our veterans have endured. Regardless of perspectives or politics, or lines on a map or drawn in the sand, veterans have defended all we believe in. They deserve much more than Veterans Day and a few other days a year when we display a flag to show how important they are. They deserve our love, respect, and gratitude.
Honor Flight Network is another way of showing that support. Founded in 2005, Honor Flight Network is a national nonprofit comprising independent hubs working together to honor our veterans—who served during the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam wars, and other service eras—who are critically ill by bringing them to Washington, DC to visit the memorials commemorating their service and sacrifice.
Offering the honor and appreciation they deserve, an Honor Flight trip gives veterans the opportunity to share their stories and experiences with other veterans, remember the fallen, and celebrate what their sacrifices and accomplishments have meant to all of us. With more than 125 hubs across the country, veterans always travel for free. With the support of volunteers who donate their time and talents to raise funds, coordinate flights, bus trips, welcome home ceremonies, and so much more—the goal is to honor our nation’s heroes with the trip of a lifetime.
Amanda Weaver, CFI, PHR, and staff instructor with WZ, has been involved with fundraising events for Honor Flight Network that provide primary funding for the trips. All the veterans on the Honor Flights must be escorted by guardians, who help them on the flight and with the excursion around the DC area. While some family members may serve as guardians, others require volunteer support, and Amanda and her family have also supported the veterans by serving as guardians.
“Philanthropy has always been a part of my upbringing, and this program really means a lot as both my husband and I have so many family members that have served in the military. It’s an incredible experience for all of us,” she says. “We see this as an opportunity to be a part of something special, to support those who have done so much for our country, showing the strength and courage to allow us to live free and safe, and support our way of life. These trips serve as a reminder of their sacrifice, and I am proud and thankful to be a part of it. It’s our way of showing our appreciation for those that have dedicated so much to our country.”
The visits are one-day events that typically begin with an early morning flight or bus ride to the nation’s capital, depending on where the trip originates. After arriving in Washington, DC, buses escort the veterans to the military monuments that represent their areas of service. Lunch is provided and other national sites may be visited as time allows before the veterans leave for the trip home.
“Visiting the monuments is very special for the veterans, and can also be very emotional,” adds Weaver. “I’ve met so many extraordinary people that have made it special in many different ways. Some openly share amazing stories about what they went through, while others prefer to reflect silently, taking in the moment at a deeply personal level. It can be an overwhelming experience, and something very important to each of them in their own way. It’s a blessing to be a part of it, knowing that you’re involved in something so meaningful to those that have served our country.”
Once the veterans return home, they are greeted with a welcome home event at the airport or bus station with supporters showing their respect and appreciation. At a recent event in Milwaukee, Jake Eastman, organized retail crime investigator with DICK’s Sporting Goods, and a team of LP leaders from DICK’s were on hand to welcome the veterans home. Eastman is a veteran himself and serves as an LP business liaison with DICK’s military MILCON program that supports our veterans through various initiatives.
“Seeing the veterans walking off the plane and getting the welcome they truly deserve was an unbelievable thing to be a part of,” says Eastman. “Especially with this particular group that had so many veterans representing the Vietnam era, who may not have gotten the welcome home that they deserved at the time. It’s so important that they know just how thankful we are for their service, sacrifice, and selflessness. The military is something that shaped me and helped me grow as a person. It’s such an important and impactful part of your life, and something that I like to reflect on all the time.”
He shared a personal account with the program. “My wife’s father and her grandfather, a World War II Navy veteran, shared an Honor Flight Network trip. It was an experience that her grandfather spoke fondly about for the rest of his life. It really meant so much to him, emphasizing that his sacrifice was valued and appreciated. This program is something that I’m very proud to be a part of. It sends a very important message. It’s a message we should all do our part to make sure it is heard.”
Transporting approximately 22,000 veterans annually, Honor Flight Network has flown nearly 275,000 veterans to Washington, DC to visit the memorials since its inception. Costs for the program are covered by donations, with additional assistance from the airlines that support the mission.