Honor Flight forums Sunday

Published 11:01 am Tuesday, March 10, 2009

If Jack Brennan had his way, he would be a guardian on the next Honor Flight Network flight to Washington, D.C.

He would take their hand and lead them. He would push a wheelchair down the sidewalk, help steady a veteran using a walker, give a reassuring pat on the back, offer his handkerchief to wipe tears.

Just like the Greatest Generation was there for America, Brennan would be there for them.

Email newsletter signup

“I’m so glad I was able to make it last October,” Brennan said of his Honor Flight to the nation’s capitol. “It was the trip of a lifetime for me.”

“Everywhere we went there was clapping and hollering and cheering for all of us,” he said. “I had such a good time and the Honor Flight people treated us royally.”

“If my health and age would allow it I would like to go along on the next trip just to help those veterans, who have never been there before,” Brennan said. “I want all of them to see those memorials.

The Austin man’s noble wish aside, his age would probably prohibit his becoming a guardian on an Honor Flight.

“I’m 83 years old,” he said.

But age is also another reason veterans are being recruited to make an Honor Flight visit to Washington, D.C.

Their numbers grow smaller every day. Age and infirmity are taking their toll.

Honor Flight is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices.

The Honor Flight Network transports America’s heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials.

Top priority is given World War II survivors along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.

Brennan and his wife, Pearl, have been married 59 years in April.

He joined the U.S. Navy, during WWII, and served at Subic Bay in the Philippines Islands.

Brennan has been interested in making an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. ever since he first heard about the opportunity.

“My wife and I visited the Capitol, when the memorial was just a hole in the ground,” he said. “We wanted to return, but we kept putting it off until I heard about the Honor Flights.”

Two years ago, Brennan applied for an Honor Flight for himself and friend Benno Bissen.

They made a flight last October 2008 from Rochester on a chartered airliner.

It was a long, grueling, emotional day: The plane departed early in the morning and returned late at night.

In between, the WWII veterans visited memorials to the nation’s war dead, including their own, the newest one among them all.

With police escorts and the pampered attention from the Honor Flight guardians and chaperons, doctors, nurses and all, the day was like a “Welcome home” parade from war.

If Will Rogers had seen it, he would have said, “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.”

When the long day ended and the WWII veterans returned, the Rochester International Airport was filled with well-wishers: Active duty veterans among them. A band played and cameras captured the homecoming for families.

“We must have been up about 23 hours that day,” recalled Brennan, “but when I got home I didn’t want to go to sleep it was so much fun.”

Brennan said every WWII survivor should make the trip.

“Oh, my goodness yes,” he said. “Every one of us should make the trip. If they would let me, I would sign up to be a chaperone or guardian, too, and go with them.”

Benno Bissen, who served in the U.S. Navy aboard a Landing Ship Tank in the Mediterranean Sea, during WWII, made the October 2008 trip. “They gave us the VIP treatment all the way,” Bissen said. “We had everything we needed.”

“It was a thrill to be a part of it,” Bissen said.

Donald Kofron, a decorated — three Air Medals — bomber pilot over Italy for the U.S. Army Air Force, made the trip and fostered memories, too.

“It was top-drawer all the way,” he said, “From start to finish, they gave us the VIP treatment.”

Seeing the WWII and other veterans memorials was “peaceful and disturbing,” according to Kofron. “It is such a perfect location with the Washington Monument in the background and the Lincoln and other memorials around the reflecting pool,” he said. “Then, you see the names of 400,000 veterans killed in the war and their Gold Stars. That was the sad part.”

Jim Rogers is a decorated war hero, too. A U.S. Marine Corps infantryman, Rogers was injured in combat on Guam as the Allied Forces were moving toward Iwo Jima and then Japan in the South Pacific over 65 years ago.

Rogers also made the trip to D.C. last October 2008.

“That was great,” he said. “Everybody should see it. The World War II memorial tells a lot of history about the war and how every state in the union sent soldiers to the war.”

Sunday forum

There will be two community forums Sunday afternoon in Austin and Albert Lea to discuss Honor Flights.

The forums are designed to solicit donations to make more Honor Flights possible and to recruit more participants.

Pete Mathias, treasurer for the Southeast Minnesota Honor Flight Network Board of Directors, and Rosemary (Lair) Harris, will be the guest speakers 1 p.m. Sunday at Austin American Legion Post No. 91.

Mathias and Harris will present a slide show of the Honor Flights and answer questions about future trips.

They will also have application forms available for veterans.

After the 1 p.m. Sunday visit to Post No. 91, Mathias and Harris will visit Albert Lea American Legion Post No. 56 for a 4 p.m. community forum on the Honor Flights.

Both Mathias and Harris have served as guardians on Honor Flights.

“Everybody should come Sunday,” said Everett DeYoung, Post No. 91 commander. “Everybody should learn about the Honor Flights.”

“We want people who are interested in being a guardian to learn how they can do that and, of course, we want the veterans to come and learn how they can make an Honor Flight. “

“We want as many of those veterans as possible,” DeYoung said.

The number of WWII veterans grows smaller every day, adding a sense of urgency to the Honor Flights’ mission.

On posters advertising the Honor Flights, the organization itself notes: “World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day nation-wide.”

Nothing more need be said.