Veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam are considered to be some of the greatest heroes in America. Fighting wars, both celebrated and forgotten, the veterans who participated are our parents, grandparents and older relatives. For many of them, the time they spent fighting overseas was difficult, with stories not shared and memories held in. After the wars, the world kept on moving and they readjusted to live back in the States. As the years went on, veterans of these three wars soon left the public eye, with many feeling forgotten. Today, an organization is not only recognizing their accomplishments, but also flying them to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials with others veterans and their families.
Denise Rouleau is a board member with the Puget Sound Chapter of the Honor Flight Program. The organization’s purpose is to find all the remaining WWII, Korean and Vietnam War vets around Puget Sound, with the goal of getting them out to Washington, D.C. to tour the nation’s memorials and be honored and recognized for their service while visiting the nation’s capitol. Each year, four trips leave Washington and head across the country to Washington, D.C. Since 2013, veterans around the Puget Sound, from Bellingham to Vancouver, have had the chance to take this amazing trip.
“I think this is such a wonderful opportunity to be thanked,” Denise beamed while describing what the Honor Flight Program entails. “The war was over 70 years ago for the WWII vets, and when the war ended, they put their guns away and jumped right back into life. Now, to be this many years removed and know people still care, this is why we have the program.”
For each trip, which leaves on a Saturday morning and returns to SeaTac on Monday night, the group of veterans visit 12 different memorials around Washington, D.C. The agenda on the first day is packed – visiting the WWII Memorial, then to Korean, Lincoln and Vietnam memorials before heading over to FDR and Navy Memorial. This happens all in one day. The next day, the stops include such highlights as watching the Changing of the Guard, visiting the Air Force and Marine Memorials and a stop to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. The trip is emotional for the veterans involved, often breaking down barriers of communication amongst loved ones.
Denise shared a story of a man from Centralia called Peewee. Peewee was 15 when he joined the war effort, having lied about his age to enlist. On the day of the Honor Flight, he showed up in a bright red jacket, traveling with his son. When the tour arrived at the memorial for Iwo Jima, he got off and walked around. When he came back, he told those who would listen that he had spent so any years with hate in his heart for the Japanese, but after visiting the memorial, said he only felt love for everyone. It was an emotional day for the staff and other veterans on the trip. There were tears all around, as there often are when stories are shared.
The free flight to Washington, D.C. for Veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam is made possible through community donations to the Puget Sound Honor Flight organization, as well as with help through a partnership with Alaska Airlines. At the suggestion of a few airline mechanics, Alaska Airlines created a plane specially painted for the veterans. Unveiled a year ago, the plane is yet another way to help these veterans of wars so many years ago feel remembered and celebrated.
If you have a relative or are a WWII, Korean or Vietnam veteran, visit the Honor Flight website, click on the applications tab, print and fill out the registration form, and send it in. Your application will be processed and your flight will be based in order of the war in which you were a part of. Currently, WWII veterans are moved to the front of the list, with the next filled spots going to Korean and Vietnam vets. Vietnam vets are the next large group to be going, as the list of WWII and Korean War veterans is almost completed.
If needed, veterans can take a guardian, but there are a few rules for them. Guardians must be between 19-65, with no spouses allowed, as attention for this event needs to be placed 100% for the veteran. Through the volunteer program, the Honor Flights allows for families to talk about the war after the trip and learn more about the experience of the veteran in their lives. While the trip is free for the veteran, volunteers must pay $1,000, which is tax deductible, with all amenities on the trip covered.
According to Denise, 99.9% of the time, veterans had no idea how profound and emotional the trip would be, considering it one of the best moments of their lives. Wives have responded to the trip saying that their husbands came back happier, and the Honor Flight Program is happy to tell us that after the trip, some veterans are now sleeping through the night for the first time since war, an important part of the closure many never received when their wars ended.
If you now anyone interested in this program, please contact Puget Sound Honor Flight and help the veteran in your life receive some closure from war.