DANIEL VAUGHAN: Memorial Day is the perfect time to support the Honor Flight Network

 May 29, 2023

It is vitally important for a nation to remember its heroes while they are alive, not just when they're dead. On Memorial Day, we remember those who didn't come back from war and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. But their memory should also spur into action to venerate those who didn't die and made it home as decorated heroes.

The Wall Street Journal provided an excellent example in its weekend edition, interviewing the last known survivor of the USS Arizona, Lou Conter. The Arizona was destroyed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Lou Conter was 20 at the time and remembers trying to save many of his brothers that day.

The Journal notes, "The USS Arizona's bombing was the deadliest of the attacks that day, killing 1,117 people. It accounted for nearly half of the 2,403 who died during Pearl Harbor. Conter was one of the 334 people assigned to the USS Arizona who survived."

How to honor living heroes.

They add, "As the number of the USS Arizona survivors dwindled to about 30, they would get together, Conter said. The group got smaller through the years, from 13 to five and then to two. 'Now I'm the only one still living,' he said." The other previous survivor was Ken Potts, who died in April of this year at 102 years old.

What is it Conter wants to do now? Return to Pearl Harbor. "He is now on a new mission: Go back to Pearl Harbor this December. It has been about four years since Conter has been to the annual remembrance. His doctor had forbidden him from taking the nine hours of flights from his home in Grass Valley, Calif., to Hawaii. 'I'd like to go once more,' Conter said."

We lose more heroes like Conter daily, and the time to honor them is now. And one of the best ways to do that is to help them travel to the monuments that tell their stories. I hope that Conter can make it back to Pearl Harbor, hopefully, more than one more time.

The Honor Flight Network is the best.

The best group out there fulfilling this specific need is the Honor Flight Network. The mission of the Honor Flight Network is simple, "To celebrate America's veterans by inviting them to share in a day of honor at our nation's memorials." The vision is simple, too, "A nation where all of America's veterans experience the honor, gratitude, and community of support they deserve."

The Honor Flight Network and its companion Lone Eagle Honor Flight program have a straightforward mission: pay for the trips of veterans to visit the memorials of the wars they fought. On that measure, the charity is a resounding success. Since 2005, 273,543 veterans have visited the national monuments for the battles they fought in due to the efforts of the Honor Flight Network.

I first encountered the Honor Flight Network on a Southwest flight one day. I was flying into Baltimore as part of a leg to another destination. My flight from Nashville was an Honor Flight Network flight, and the gate that day was full of veterans from multiple wars, all flying to DC to see the national monuments. Every war was represented, and every veteran was sitting there swapping stories with other vets.

The time to honor veterans is now. Don't wait.

It was an incredible experience. The other travelers, like myself, all got up and made room for the veterans to take the gate seats. Listening to the stories, hearing the camaraderie from men who served in different wars, and seeing their appreciation for the Honor Flight Network staff was an experience I'll never forget. Nor will I forget the BWI firetrucks shooting a water canon salute over the Southwest flight to welcome the veterans to the airport.

Since then, I've donated to and touted the Honor Flight Network in columns like this and elsewhere. It's truly a great organization that is honoring veterans the right way. It's also a chance for Americans to see their heroes, in person, from the airport to these monuments. We need to honor them now because some day they'll be gone.

One of the most powerful memorials I've ever been to is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Standing there, looking at the tomb, watching the changing of the guard, and seeing DC in the background struck me emotionally. It is a tragedy that we need such a monument, but it is to our credit that we do. We must honor all the dead who made our life of freedom and security possible.

We should also ensure that the living never gets treated like an unknown person. We should honor them now. The Honor Flight Network is an excellent organization that fills this need. If you're looking for a way to honor a veteran today, it's a great place to start.

Donate today!

You can support the National Honor Flight Network by donating here. The Lone Eagle Honor Flight Program also accepts donations to help individuals or special cases not near a usual airport hub. Finally, you can support your local hub for the Honor Flight Network by choosing your state from the interactive map at this link.

May God continue to bless America, and may we never forget our heroes, alive or dead.

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