By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
— Last September, Howard County resident Gene Sweeney got to take a memorable flight to the nation’s capitol to visit the World War II monument.
Sweeney was among three veterans who have traveled to the WWII monument at the Noon Rotary Club meeting Tuesday at the Kokomo Country Club. The other veterans who made the flight are John Eads and Charles Glass. Dale Rayls is scheduled to go in September.
Sweeney and his daughter, Elizabeth Anders, made the trip through the Honor Flight program in Lafayette.
A pilot with the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945, Sweeney didn’t have the opportunity to visit the monument until he took the Honor Flight.
“It was very impressive,” Sweeney said. “The way it was done, the sculptures and the ornateness of the monument. I was impressed.”
Sweeney said while he was visiting the monument, several people came up, shook his hand and thanked him for his service.
Anders related a touching experience the father and daughter shared.
“We were waiting to get on the bus,” Anders said. “There was a couple of school groups there, probably from a middle school. Without any prompting from the teachers, the students took time to spend with the veterans, shake their hands and to thank them.
“It was very moving,” she said.
The Honor Flight program was started in 2005 in Ohio and has grown to include 122 hubs in almost every state.
There are Honor Flight hubs in Lafayette, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis.
Pamela Mow is a co-chairman of the Lafayette hub and started the program after her son was killed while serving in Iraq. The Lafayette Gold Star Mothers are in charge of the Honor Flights.
The Lafayette hub has already conducted four flights.
“I wanted to become involved in a service project,” she said. “That’s when I heard about the Honor Flight.”
Mow said 700 veterans of World War II die every day.
“They’re the greatest generation and deserve to be honored,” she said. “Veterans in our society are not respected and honored.”
There have been several flights from Lafayette in a chartered plane with the next ones scheduled for June 24 and Sept. 9. Mow said each veteran is accompanied by a guardian, in most cases family members.
“It’s a program that’s such a positive thing,” she said. “The Honor Flights bring a little joy to my life.”
The veterans visit the World War II, Korean War, Vietnam Veterans and Iwo Jima monuments and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
“It’s a day of honor,” Mow said. “Our goal is to make them feel honored. For many of the guardians it’s the best day they spend with their father or mother.”
Mow said the Lafayette hub is now flying Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C. She hopes to include Vietnam veterans in the future.
“We want to honor veterans of all wars,” she said.
Mow said approximately 60 World War II veterans from Howard County have made the flight, but she knows there are many more.
“We want them to experience the day of honor,” she said.
The guardian’s role is to take care of the veterans and to ensure they have the best day possible.
Mow said each flight costs an estimated $65,000. The veterans fly free and their guardians pay $400.
Applications for veterans, guardians and volunteers are available at lafayettegoldstarmothers.org.