Honor Flight: a thank you to those who served
Many of them lost buddies on the battlefields of World War II.
One was a messenger for U.S. Gen. George Patton and was on the same road when the general's Jeep slid off an icy road, killing him.
World War II veterans, usually in their 80s and 90s, are becoming "the lost generation" and more are being lost every day. That's why the April 27 Honor Flight is so important, said Gloria Campana, director of Reynoldsburg's Honor Flight.
She said the Reynoldsburg and Gahanna communities contributed nearly $45,000 to send military veterans on a Tour of Honor to the nation's capital. More than 60 veterans will leave Port Columbus International Airport at 7 a.m. Saturday, April 27, to visit the World War II Memorial and other memorials in Washington, D.C.
Some of the veterans going on the trip served in the Korean War. All of the veterans will visit the Korean Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery for a Changing of the Guard ceremony, the Marine Corps Memorial and the Navy Memorial/Air Force Memorial.
Columbus-area World War II veterans making the trip are Donald Elder, Daniel Fusner, Bud Haughn, Hawk Hawkins, Donald Klotz, William Knox, William Mays and Nick Panzone.
Klotz was the messenger for Gen. Patton.
Campana said the veterans are scheduled to return to Columbus at 9:15 p.m. April 27. She is hoping people will come out to the airport and welcome them home.
"We can never thank our veterans enough for the liberty they have given us, but we can make a down payment on that gratitude by sending them on this Tour of Honor, this trip of a lifetime," she said. "Reynoldsburg has come through in a big way and I hope they will come out in a big way on April 27 at the airport."
Campana said the flight cost $50,000.
More than $35,000 of that amount came from the Reynoldsburg community and about $10,000 came from Gahanna schools and community. Donations to Honor Flight Columbus also contributed to the trip.
Gahanna schools' television production teacher Tom Gregory said his students organized the fundraising in Gahanna, with high school, elementary, middle school and community members raising just under $10,000.
"We've been involved for a long time with Honor Flight," he said. "A lot of students have written letters to the veterans. When the veterans arrive back in Columbus, they have mail call, like when they were in service. It's really touching to these guys."
Gregory said his WGLH-TV students produced a short documentary about Honor Flight that is shown to district students at the beginning of fundraising.
About 40 members of Gahanna's high school marching band and orchestra are expected to also show up at the airport to greet the veterans when they return from Washington, D.C.
Reynoldsburg High School student Alexis Jones is making the trip as a "guardian," or aide, along with Gary James, president of Dynalab on Lancaster Avenue; and Kerri Beany Foulks, from Beany's Auto Service on Brice Road.
"The Reynoldsburg community has been awesome," Campana said.
She said fundraising began last October, with veterans from VFW Post 947 cooking 45 pounds of pancakes for a breakfast. Other fundraising efforts included a World War II Victory Canteen and Hats for Heroes on Veterans Day.
Campana said students in teacher Dawn McCloud's classes at Hannah Ashton Middle School are working on letters of appreciation that will be placed in the veterans' mailbags.
"The veterans are found, basically, by word of mouth," Campana said. "Honor Flight volunteers go to churches, events, parades and other places to speak or hand out brochures about the flights.
"My group started by bringing in an Army halftrack (Army combat vehicle) for a Fourth of July parade in Reynoldsburg that carried about seven World War II veterans," she said. "We walked with the halftrack and passed out fliers about Honor Flight to as many people as we could.
"Sometimes veterans are in the crowd and sometimes other people know vets they can take a brochure to."
Campana said local businesses and individuals contributed and helped with fundraisers.
"Barth Cotner came through time and again with flowers from his business Hunter's Florist on Main Street; Tom Johnston and Ron Greenbaum, owners of The Basement Doctor, also helped immensely with the Victory Canteen," she said.
Honor Flight Columbus has been helping organize flights to the World War II Memorial for veterans since 2007.
Information about Honor Flight is available online at honorflightcolumbus.org.