Guardians 'honored' to serve veterans
Volunteer guardians were close companions for veterans who made the April 27 Honor Flight, which began with patriotic songs performed by the Pickerington High School marching band at 5:30 a.m. at Port Columbus.
Veterans and their guardians flew to Baltimore and then took a bus to Washington, D.C., to see the National World War II Memorial and other attractions in the area.
The long day ended with a return to Port Columbus International Airport at 9:30 p.m.
Guardians pay $200 to $300 for each Honor Flight trip, but veterans travel for free.
Honor Flight Columbus co-directors Kay and Jim Downing said all guardians take a training class and are "charged with special attention to the safety and comfort of the veterans."
Otterbein University graduate Abby Forman, who was involved with the Westerville Rotary's fundraising for the Honor Flight while she was a college student, served as guardian to her grandfather, Chris Evans, a Heath resident and veteran of the Korean conflict.
"It is an honor to get to go on the flight and meet all of these wonderful people who sacrificed so much for us," Forman said.
Evans said he was grateful to visit the World War II Memorial with his granddaughter.
"The memorial is quite impressive," he said. "If this was a movie, I think we would call it epic."
Gahanna Lincoln High School television production teacher Tom Gregory was a guardian, as were four of his students and his wife, Karie, also a teacher in Gahanna.
"Being a guardian is such a great learning experience for students," he said. "When veterans see that students understand and care for them, it means a lot."
Gregory said this was the sixth Honor Flight with which Gahanna has been involved and the first year his group has collaborated with Reynoldsburg to raise funds.
His student, junior Connor Roll, said it was an honor to serve as a guardian for James Deeter, a World War II veteran from Marion.
"These great men did so much for our country," Roll said. "I'm happy I'm here to help give them this experience."
Deeter said he's grateful for the experience.
"It's just remarkable that so many people put their time in to do this," he said.
Gary Lightfoot, of West Jefferson, helped two veterans on the trip. On a lanyard around his neck he also wore badges bearing the photos of deceased veterans "so I could take them with me."
"In 10 years, there won't be any World War II veterans," he said. "We have to get as many as we can to the memorial. After I went with my dad three years ago, I started thinking about veterans who passed away. This is their memorial, too."
Lightfoot said he had talked to people and asked them to send photos of their relatives who had died before seeing the World War II Memorial. The April 27 trip was Lightfoot's fifth Honor Flight.
"I have 28 badges of veterans who died, so I alternate the badges and wear them on the flight," he said. "I get sponsors to help pay for the flights. If it wasn't for all of these veterans, for what they did for us, we wouldn't have what we have. I cherish every day."