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Flying with honors

Resident and daughter visit D.C. with other veterans

The mission of Kansas Honor Flight is make it easy for aging veterans to see their war memorials. And something magical happens on these trips to Washington, D.C. The sight of dozens of veterans visiting a memorial to their service inspires heartfelt expressions of patriotism from scores of grateful strangers.

Don Lloyd, a resident at Salina Presbyterian Manor, served in the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War. In April, he went on an Honor Flight with his daughter, Jana Lloyd, and 27 other veterans, plus their escorts.

They were barely halfway to Washington when Jana realized they weren't just another group of tourists. While changing planes in St. Louis, she said, "The whole airport applauded the whole time" as they went to their gate.

Honor Flights were organized to bring World War II veterans to Washington when the war memorial opened. Now, veterans from Korea and Vietnam are also welcome. Don heard about the flight last fall from his insurance agent, who said she would get him the paperwork.

He told Jana, who didn't wait around. She found the forms online herself and got them submitted. Finally, they heard they were booked on Flight 45 in April. (There are no trips in summer or winter, for the veterans' comfort).

The group landed in Baltimore and visited Fort McHenry, then had a banquet that night. They traveled to Washington the next day, and returned home the day after. Jana said it was eye-opening to see how her dad responded to the different monuments, and she saw a side of him that was new to her.

At the Korean memorial, they saw a wall of pictures depicting the support groups for the troops on the front lines. "It took a ton of people behind the lines to support that one person. He really soaked that in."

All of the veterans are given a wheelchair to make it easier to get through the tour. When they approached the Korean memorial, Jana said a school tour group showed their respect. "The kids split and just clapped as I pushed Dad through. Everywhere we went, people would stand aside and applaud."

The veterans travel at no cost, but they are required to have escorts, known as guardians, who pay a flat fee of $700. Volunteer guardians are available for veterans who don't have someone to accompany them.

On their trip, Jana said there were three sets of brothers who were veterans, plus a father and son who served in World War II and Vietnam.

The return flight always culminates in a rousing welcome home. All are invited to cheer for the veterans as they make their way through the Wichita airport. But it's especially meaningful to have many active duty servicemen and women, in uniform, saluting and applauding the veterans who came before them.

Don urges all veterans to book a flight. "I think it's great. They should go before it's too late."

For details, visit www.kansashonorflight.org.

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