Archive for Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Honor Flights offered for WWII veterans

March 10, 2010

Gary Swanson hopes that as many World War II veterans as possible have a chance to visit the Washington, D.C., memorial built to honor them.

The Leawood resident spoke Friday at the Cedar Roe branch of the Johnson County Library in Roeland Park about an effort to help veterans like Roy Shenkel of Shawnee do just that. Swanson and Shenkel shared memories of the Honor Flights that have been organized for the aging veterans of World War II so they can visit the memorial, completed in 2004.

Swanson has spent the past several years recording interviews with World War II veterans in the metropolitan area as part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project; he has now interviewed nearly 1,000 veterans.

It was in the process of doing the interviews that he learned about the Honor Flights, an effort started by a man in Ohio to provide free flights for veterans to spend a day at the World War II memorial in Washington. The flights are funded through donations to the national Honor Flight Network, and Swanson became one of the flight organizers for the Kansas City area.

Three flights for Kansas City-area veterans have been organized so far, and a fourth is in the works. About 55 people can go on each flight, most of them veterans, some with caregivers.

They leave early in the morning, take a bus tour of the capital and make the all-important stop at the World War II memorial, and most groups fly home the same day.

It often takes the aging veterans a few days to recover from the whirlwind day trip, but all report it is worth it, Swanson said.

“The highlight of the thing really is for the veterans to be together,” Swanson said. “… There’s just that shared, common bond that an outsider will never understand.”

Shenkel, who also shared some of his experiences during the war as a prisoner of war, went on an honor flight in 2008. He said the experience was moving.

“You see the monuments, but your mind goes back (to your war experiences),” he said.

For more information about Honor Flights, contact Swanson at gswanson@kc.rr.com or visit honorflight.org.

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