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Honor Flight: A belated but heartfelt thank you

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:35 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 26, 2013

It must be obvious to readers that opinion columnists continually aim their efforts at the dark side, seeking that particularly offensive something for which we and only we are equipped to provide solution or, at the very least, sage advice on closing out the problem. This is a natural phenomenon, for as everyone knows doom and gloom sell better than good news and sunshine.

After attending the first annual Honor Ball, organized in support of the Central Missouri Honor Flight in flying our nation’s aging veterans to view their memorials in Washington, D.C., I lay aside that tradition and laud not only these warriors for their sacrifice, but also KOMU-TV, the corporate sponsors and the volunteers whose selfless efforts make this a reality. For those unfamiliar with the Honor Flight Program, here is a bit of history.

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Following the opening of the World War II Memorial in 2004, a retired USAF captain and Veteran’s Affairs Physician’s Assistant, Earl Morse, asked patients if they had ever seen the memorial.  As most replied in the negative for reasons of financial and health issues, an idea was born. A private pilot, Morse flew one of these veterans to Washington at his own expense. This gentleman’s tearful gratitude was such that he enlisted the aid of other private pilots to fly other veterans, paying for the aircraft out of their own pockets.

The program outgrew its humble beginnings rapidly as it appealed to the generosity of the American public at large and to a core of dedicated and loyal volunteers whose organizational skills and respect for those who went into harm’s way for the nation made it happen. With Southwest and Pace Airlines as partners with the Honor Flight Network, more than 40,000 veterans will have viewed the memorials to their World War Service at no cost to them by the end of November.

It is virtually impossible to overstate the importance of this program in honoring those who served. They were of a generation who dropped everything to answer their country’s call to duty, and those who were not killed or seriously wounded remained to fight through to V-E and V-J Days in 1945. At war’s end, they returned to resume their lives in quiet dignity, neither asking nor expecting any special consideration.

Following periods of conflict, America’s treatment of its veterans has ranged from taking them for granted to outrageous debasement and ridicule to today’s appreciation of their hardship and sacrifice. Those returning from World War II and Korea were virtually ignored, while who can forget or forgive the vicious and malicious activities of the anti-war movement in verbal and occasional physical assaults on the Vietnam returnees. It appears the nation has matured and is making amends to those deploying and redeploying to Gulf War theaters.

Accordingly, it is extremely satisfying to see the "greatest generation,"  at long last, accorded its due. And, it is particularly gratifying to see and to feel their sincere appreciation for that which is being done for them. Unlike many who have followed, these men and women are not members of an "I" or "me" generation who expect special treatment simply for existing. Rather, they remember and understand the virtues of please and thank you.

The Honor Ball was among the best organized I have had the pleasure to attend. From the time we were escorted to our seats by uniformed midshipmen of the Naval ROTC until evening’s end, every detail was in order. The meal was excellent; the orchestra’s (Memories) 1940s music superb; and the entertainment — including remarks from Dale Dye, a retired Marine Captain and Hollywood movie consultant — was well received.

However, the highlight of the evening was the opportunity to mingle among bona fide local heroes, those who had lived "duty, honor and country." My best analogy of this aura is in recalling the legend of a turn of the century engagement between U. S. Marines and Philippine insurgents on the island of Samar. Without going into unnecessary detail, suffice to say it was a difficult and deadly campaign. For many years thereafter, Marines paid a traditional tribute to their courage by rising in their presence with “Stand Gentlemen, He Served on Samar.”

Those who served our nation in World War II have earned no less than "Stand, They Served." And, as time is rapidly running out, there is no better time to act on their behalf in continuing the Honor Flight Program. For information, contact Central Missouri Honor Flight c/o KOMU-TV, (573) 884 3783 or e-mail to centralmissourihonorflight@yahoo.com. A listing of local corporate sponsors and involved individuals can be found here.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.

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