We are remembering with great fondness Wheelchair Foundation President, David Behring’s trip-of-a-lifetime, the opportunity to join a group of volunteers and chaperone a Veteran on an Honor Flight to Washington, D. C. to see the memorials built in honor of their service and sacrifice in support of democracy.

~ by David Behring

Over the years the Wheelchair Foundation has furnished wheelchairs to Honor Flight Network chapters throughout the country. This non-profit organization’s mission is to provide all-expense-paid trips for World War II veterans back to Washington, D.C so that they can visit their memorial along with Arlington Cemetery and other memorials related to military service.

Every veteran is assigned a guardian to assist him or her on the trip. Since most of these veterans are at least 90 years old, the wheelchair makes it much easier to both rest and be pushed by the guardian. A “wheelchair brigade” of volunteers would file out first from the bus at each stop and set up the wheelchairs. It ran very efficiently and the veterans greatly appreciated the convenience. It was quite a sight to see our group of 26 veterans in red shirts and jackets in red wheelchairs against the background of the white WWII Memorial.

In September I had the honor and privilege to be a guardian on Bay Area Honor Flight #4 and accompany Frank Carli, a Navy Seabee who spent time at Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima.

As an ardent student of WWII history, I loved meeting and talking to these men and women who helped save the world from tyranny. From the time we left San Francisco very, very early on a Thursday morning to our return on Saturday night, the patriotism and support from people was unbelievable.

Large crowds greeted us at the airports with flags, banners, and cheering. School kids would gather around the veterans and want their pictures taken. A police escort accompanied our bus during the entire trip.

One of the most poignant parts of our Honor Flight was V (for Victory) Mail Night when they received mail from their family members and friends as well as letters of gratitude from strangers such as students, Boy Scouts, and young veterans. One could not help but get emotional watching these veterans carefully read a dozen or so letters of appreciation. Many of the veterans re-read those letters on the flight home.

I am glad that we were able to play a small role in making the trip easier for these courageous and patriotic men and women who served our country so well 70 years ago. As Frank told me at the end of the trip, “I cannot begin to tell you how unbelievable and emotional this trip has been. Being with the guys, hearing the cheers, walking the memorials – the experience was far beyond anything I expected.”

This story borrowed and re-published in full  from the KTVU Channel 2 News Website

Thanks to you, our donors, we were able to provide mobility to these veterans that served in WWII during their trip to Washington D.C on an “Honor Flight”.

SAN FRANCISCO — Bay Area World War II veterans who took an “honor flight” to see the war memorial in Washington, D.C. arrived back home Sunday. Families held flags and signs at San Francisco International Airport for an emotional reunion with their veterans.

“My dad is legally blind, legally deaf, he’s an amputee, he’s had two heart surgeries and he’s got lung cancer – so he’s living on borrowed time,” said Janice Lopez. The Fremont Firefighters Union had raised $30,000 to send the 30 veterans to see the war memorial before it’s too late. Some of the firefighters went on the trip to chaperon the veterans.

WWII veterans return home from Honor Flight. Photo courtesy of KTVU Channel 2 News

WWII veterans return home from Honor Flight. Photo courtesy of KTVU Channel 2 News

World War II veteran Art Perry told KTVU the trip meant he was able to talk with people his age, who went through the same thing he did. “It made me feel really good having someone like that to talk to,” he said.

For some, the trip meant closure. Sgt. Art Perry was 22 years old when he served as an Army Sergeant in World War II. He hadn’t really talked about the war until now. “I think this is a long time coming,” said Perry’s daughter Dianne Madronio.

For others at the airport, the veterans return was a life lesson as they expressed their love and appreciation. “This is the greatest generation there was. They honored us; they wouldn’t let us honor them,” said Ray Wilkenson with the Fremont Fire Department.

This article was written by Lou Bender for the Tallahassee Democrat and has been edited for content length. To read the original online article click here.  Images were provided by Capt. Scott Barry, Special Operations / Field Operations Supervisor Leon County EMS.

As one of the 81 World War II veterans privileged and humbled to be on the May 11 Honor Flight to Washington and the WWII Memorial, I want to share some of the special meanings from this event.

Honorflight(70)At Baltimore/Washington International airport, we were greeted by representatives of the Honor Flight Network that now covers more than 120 hubs in 41 states. We boarded three buses for the trip to D.C., and we had a police escort with lights and sirens blasting and opening for our caravan down the busy parkway and through the bustling city traffic. Most of us never had seen police lights blinking in front of us, but some admitted they had seen them in the rear view mirror over the years.

After passing the Capitol, White House and various government buildings, described and explained by wonderful local guides, we arrived at the WWII Memorial.

Our first excitement was to learn that the tall, handsome man standing close to where we would exit the bus was none other than Earl Morse, the founder of the Honor Flight program. He was a physicians’ assistant in a veterans’ hospital, and many of his WWII patients lamented they never would see the WWII Memorial completed in 2004. As a private pilot and moved by the fact several of his patients had passed away, he enlisted volunteers from an aero club in Dayton, Ohio, then undertook fundraising to transform an idea to reality. In May 2005, six small planes flew 12 WWII veterans to realize their dream. On Saturday, the Tallahassee Honor Flight was one of five, with others from New York, West Virginia, Tennessee and Texas.

Each of us was moved by the memorial. We learned from the guide that the word “veterans” is not used for the WWII Memorial, as it is for others. The reason is that it is intended to honor not only the military but also the women, children, and men on the home front. The “greatest generation” should be known to include every woman who labored in the defense industry or in the fields, and every child who supported U.S. Bond campaigns and recycling. Our nation’s might was a united effort to win for God and country.

Honorflight(165)The memorial is located between the Washington and Lincoln monuments, which represent the beginning of our nation and then the saving of a united states. WWII thus is viewed as saving the world from domination.

The Price of Freedom part of the memorial is a wall of stars behind a reflecting pool, with each star representing 100 American service personnel who died or remain missing in the war, for a total of 405,399.

We were privileged to witness a changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknowns at Arlington before returning to BWI, with our police escort clearing the way.

As we entered the airport, we were greeted by Honor Flight folks again, but also several lines of service men and women, clapping and shouting their thanks. At the gate area and just before boarding our return flight, our wheelchair comrades had a special treat. Miss Maryland wished each of them a happy farewell, and when of of the guys requested a kiss, he promptly received one on his cheek. Thereafter, the next one received the same, until one requested that she sit on his lap – and she did, to his joy and our laughter. After we boarded our plane, we heard an announcement for “mail call,” one of the most cherished moments for us overseas. Then each vet was given a manila envelope with letters written by schoolchildren, politicians and family members.

How touching to read the children’s letters and how meaningful for each of us. Then our return flight and an unbelievable welcoming home that commenced with a water salute by the Tallahassee Fire Department and was followed with a parallel-line honor guard of men and women again showing love and respect.

We could hear the swing band playing WWII songs as friends and family gave hugs of welcome.

The greater meaning is not the exciting, well planned and emotionally rewarding trip, but rather the fact there is faith, hope and charity that abounds in Tallahassee and neighboring communities.


Lou Bender is a Professor Emeritus at Florida State University. Contact him at louisbender@comcast.net