Life-changing, but bittersweet
As much as the trip was for his father, Randy enjoyed the experience enough that he hopes to accompany another Honor Flight group to D.C. in the fall, and he suggests others explore the opportunity, too.
"It was a life-changing experience," he said. Seeing his father relive war-time memories with other veterans in our nation's capital was a reminder of how the face of the nation would have changed if they had not served in the military.
While touring the monuments, the Honor Flight crew encountered many groups of students on field trips who made it a point to thank the veterans for their service. One group, a student chorus from South Dakota, spontaneously broke into song to honor the veterans.
"I was very touched by that," Don said.
Though admittedly bittersweet, he said it was an experience he hopes all veterans will take advantage of.
"It was the greatest thing to happen to me since soup," he laughed. "Every vet should get a hold of an application and send it in."
About Honor Flight Network
Are you a veteran? Do as Don Flath suggests and get a hold of an application for Honor Flight Network through the Rochester regional hub by visiting Honorflightrochester.org.
The national organization was established in 2005 to honor veterans by offering them an expenses-paid trip to "their" monument. Veterans who apply for a trip are prioritized by age and health, and currently WWII and terminally ill veterans who would not otherwise make the trip on their own receive first priority.
Each group of veterans is accompanied by guardians, like Randy Flath, who volunteer their time and contribute a portion of their own expenses to ensure the veterans enjoy a memorable and safe trip. Volunteers are also needed to send off veterans and greet them in the airports in a cheering reception.
To apply as a veteran, guardian or volunteer or learn more about Honor Flight Network, visit Honorflight.org or the Rochester-based regional hub's site, Honorflightrochester.org. Honor Flight Network is a not-for-profit private organization and provides totally free trips to veterans, but beware of similarly-named groups like Honorflight.com which do charge veterans for similar trips.