Oklahoma Warriors Take Honor Flight
Warrior Flights have provided over 2,000 veterans and their guardians with the opportunity to see their memorials in Washington.
Photo courtesy of the Honor Flight Program in Oklahoma
Oklahoma military veterans gathered on the afternoon of October 1 for ceremonies at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel in Tulsa for the first phase of being honored by Oklahoma and the nation for their service and sacrifices. At first light the next morning, a chartered American Airlines 737 Oklahoma Warriors Honor Flight lifted from Tulsa International to deliver 73 vets of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to a whirlwind one-day, all-expenses-paid flight to Washington D.C.’s National Mall to visit their respective war memorials.
Older now and graying, wearing caps and jackets featuring combat and unit patches from their wars, some in wheelchairs, others on crutches or limping from old wounds, the veterans were ebullient in anticipation. For most, this would be their first trip to the nation’s capital to visit monuments dedicated to them.
Earl Prigmore, 93, of Alva, was the flight’s oldest warrior and one of only nine WWII survivors on the trip. He served as a U.S. Navy gunner in the South Pacific. He recalled parades and ceremonies welcoming “the boys” from WWII when they started coming home.
On the other hand, for those who served in Korea and Vietnam, such as the three Wilson brothers—Billy Dean, 68; Joe Carl, 71; and Johnny Ray, 72, all U.S. Army Vietnam veterans—the Honor Flight to D.C. was like the homecoming they never received. Characteristically, soldiers returning from Vietnam were advised to wear civilian clothing and not uniforms in order to avoid protestors at airports.
“A lot of people didn’t appreciate us when we first came back,” remarked Jaydee Maples, who received a Purple Heart in Vietnam. “Attitudes toward veterans have since changed a lot.”
The Wilsons were among 38 Vietnam vets listed on the flight manifest.
U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Edmund Hepner was among 26 from the Korean War. He flew 115 combat missions in Korea and Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received in action. As with Vietnam vets, he and the other survivors of Korea’s so-called “Forgotten War” returned home with very little fanfare.
“‘Welcome home’ is a big part of the D.C. visit,” said Larry Hurt, flight director for the Honor Flights and a U.S. Army retiree. “For most, visiting their sites will be their first welcome home.”
Nancy Moody, a veteran of the U.S. Army in Korea, was the flight’s only female veteran. She participated with Edward Campbell, U.S. Army WWII; Raymond Sewell, Army Air Corps WWII; and Mitch Reed, U.S. Army Vietnam, in the laying of the wreath ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Honor Flight Program is a nationwide network devoted to recognizing American veterans for their service by flying them to Washington D.C., all expenses paid. Jessee Hyden, executive director of the project in Oklahoma, explained how the Honor Flight program, launched in Oklahoma in 2009, was initially only for WWII veterans. It was on the brink of collapse due to the dwindling of available World War vets until, in 2017, Oklahoma representatives of the program decided to include Korean and Vietnam veterans on the flights.
The Oklahoma Warriors Honor Flight was launched with two flights to Washington in 2017, two in 2018, and another two tentatively scheduled for 2019. Since the new undertaking, Warrior Flights have provided over 2,000 veterans and their guardians with the opportunity to see their memorials in Washington.
Each commercially chartered flight from Oklahoma to Washington and back costs approximately $100,000. Warrior Flights is run entirely by volunteers and solicits funds for operating costs through commitments by various individual and corporate donors. Although the vets enjoy an all-paid trip, including meals, snacks, and ground transportation, their “guardians” and administrative staff are required to make a $500 donation to cover their own expenses.
A “guardian” is assigned to each individual veteran to assist and handle all aspects of the visit and ensure that everyone has a safe, memorable and rewarding experience.
“Our veterans deserve our efforts for the sacrifices they made for the nation,” Larry Hurt concluded.
Men or women who have served on active duty anywhere or anytime during dates covering the periods of WWII, Korea, or Vietnam are eligible for a free Honor flight. Guardians and others interested in the program may volunteer by completing an application obtained by e-mail from email@example.com. Those seeking to donate or veterans desiring to become flight participants will find additional information by going to the Oklahoma Warriors Honor Flight Facebook page: www.facebook.com/OKWarriorsHF/