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Honor flights give vets a memorable trip home

Staff writer

Whenever area veterans and their guardians return to the Wichita airport after an honor trip to Washington, District of Columbia, they are greeted by a crowd of cheering and clapping supporters.

For these veterans, that is an emotional experience.

Lori Smith of Lincolnville, an Iraq war veteran, accompanied her grandfather, 84-year-old Melvin Viktara of Wichita, on a Sept. 17 to 19 flight. She said when he saw the cheering crowd at the airport after the return flight, he was almost like a little kid.

“He was waving and chuckling as they cheered,” she said. “It was fun to see.”

David Schneider of Marion was a guardian for his 78-year-old father, Richard, on an Oct. 1-3 honor flight. The big reception at the airport was a moving experience for his father.

“I saw tears in his eyes,” he said.

Richard Schneider served in the Korean War, so it was great to see the Korean War Memorial, his son said.

Kent Richmond, 83, of rural Marion, was on the same flight. He was accompanied by his son, Jim. Kent said one day was a full day, and he was glad to have his son along to push him around.

“Everybody who went, it was easier to be in wheelchairs because of all the activity and all the moving around we did,” he said.

Richmond served three years in the Korean War.

Smith was glad for the wheelchairs.

“My grandfather can walk with a cane, but I grounded him to a wheelchair because I kept losing him,” she said. “He was walking around visiting with everybody.”

The groups visited all the war memorials, the Lincoln Memorial, Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Air Museum, and Arlington National Cemetery. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, they witnessed the changing of the guard. They also visited Ft. McHenry, which was the setting of “The Star-spangled Banner,” written 200 years ago.

Schneider said being a guardian was special.

“These memorials were built for the vets,” he said. “The trip is a big celebration for them, and it was an honor to see their celebrations.”

He enjoyed listening to the stories the vets shared and seeing them moved to tears at times.

The unfurling of a large American flag at Fort McHenry was memorable for Smith’s grandfather. She said it took the whole group — 27 vets, 27 guardians, and four volunteers — to do the job.

A 91-year-old female Marine laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“She was a little spitfire,” Smith said.

Smith’s grandfather acquired the name “Lucky” because he survived three wars — World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.

She said he was moved by the sight of the Enola Gay, a plane that he said saved his life when it dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and helped end World War II.

They all agreed the trip was an inspiring experience. For guardians, it provided a special connection between themselves and their loved ones.

“It’s something I’ll never forget, and I’ll always have those memories to treasure,” Smith said.

Kansas Honor Flight, Inc. provides trips to veterans from private contributions. The guardians pay their own travel expenses.

For more information, visit www.kansashonorflight.org.

Last modified Oct. 16, 2014

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