May 27, 2009 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Just a few weeks before Memorial Day, longtime Camillus resident and World War II veateran Don Flath was given the opportunity to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
But better than the chance to visit the memorials was that the trip was made entirely possible through Honor Flight Network, an organization dedicated to helping veterans visit the Washington monuments free of charge.
Flath first heard about the program in 2007 and applied in January 2008 for a trip. A little more than a year later, he was on his way to Washington with his son, Randy, as a companion to the group of about 50 other veterans and 40 guardians to help keep them on schedule.
“Nobody should ever miss it,” Flath said of his experience at the monuments. “Lots of vets don’t know it’s available to them.”
‘They thought I was 4F’
Flath was 20 when he enlisted in the United States Army in 1943. A native of Skunk City – “a good place to grow up,” he said – Flath joked that he joined the Army because girls wouldn’t dance with him, thinking he had been deemed unfit for military service.
“They thought I was a 4F,” Flath laughed.
He spent four years in the service, much of his time in the China-Burma-India theater, where Flath said troops were charged with keep ing Japanese and German forces from meeting in India.
After he returned to Central New York, Flath settled in Camillus, where he and his wife raised three children.
His son, Randy Flath, said he grew up listening to his dad’s war stories but when he accompanied him on his Honor Flight trip he not only heard different tales, he saw his father in a different light.
“It was like they were rejuvinated,” the younger Flath said of his father and fellow veterans. “I saw him smile more this trip than ever before.”
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.
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