A hero? Not by any veteran’s defintion of the word. Like most veterans, Air Force Captain Earl Morse would say, “The heroes never came home.”
But to 40,000 WWII veterans and their families, Eral Morse, president and founder of Honor Flight Network, deserves the title.
When the World War II memorial was dedicated in May, 2004, the physicaian’s assistant congratulated his WWII patients at a VA hospital in Ohio. He then asked the, “Do you plan to see your memorial?” They all felt optimistic about going.
But when he asked at their next visit, “Did you go to DC yet?” the vetereans sagged. By then reality had dawned: they wouldn’t be able to afford the trip, whether financially, health-wise or logistically.
Morse, a pilot, asked a patient, “Wouldn’t you let me fly you to DC, all expenses paid?”
The man wept in Morse’s office. As did the next veteran Morse invited. By Christmas of 2004, Morse stood before his aero club with a proposal: he needed pilots willing to fly their private planes with veterans as their honored guests. His two stipulations: they fly the veterans entirely free, and each pilot must personally escort his veterans around Washington.
At Honor Floight’s inaugural take-off in May 2005, six planes tipped their wings into the sunrise and 12 WWII veterans pressed their faces to the windows. By then, 168 veterans were on a waiting list. Seven died while waiting.
The not-for-profit has grown from a set of private planes to an organization with wings across America. 95 hubs in 35 states fly veterans on commercial jets to Washington, DC. Currently 6200 vets are on a waiting list, many from areas without Honor Flight hubs.
On one flight, a passenger stood when she saw the WWII vets on board. “My father was in a concentration camp, which your soldiers liberated”
Morse takes no credit for changing the last days of the lives of over 40,000 veterans who’ve taken the Honor Flight. He knows that histoically, veterans feel ignored and underappreciated. Honor Flight can change that. Only an estimated 2-2.5 million WWII vets remain. With 1000dying each day, he works ceaselessly to raise awareness, raise funds and create more hubs.
“America as we know it would not exist without these veterans.” Morse says, “If you can read this, thank a teacher. Since you can read this in English, thank a WWII Veteran..before it’s too late.”
“We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.” -Will Rogers
For more information, to enroll a veteran, make a donation or start a hub in your area, see www.HonorFlight.org
Jane Rubietta is an award winning author and speaker with a passion and compassion for Veterans. She accompanied her father on his Honor Flight, honoring his Naval seervice during WWII. It changed both their lives. For more information on Jane, see www.JaneRubietta.com