Daisy’s Chief Operating Officer, Drew Albright, recently had the great honor to accompany veterans from World War II through Viet Nam and high school students from several Kansas high schools (Parsons, St. Paul and Chetopa) on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
Honor Flights honor veterans with all-expense-paid trips to military memorials in D.C., so the veterans can share this momentous trip with other veterans, to remember friends and comrades lost and to share stories and experiences with each other. Normally a family member accompanies the veteran to act as a caretaker, but this special trip uses high school sophomores, juniors and seniors, who make sure to put the veteran first at all times, and as a result bond with their assigned new friend while learning important lessons. This is the only Honor Flight that utilizes high schoolers.
“Sometimes our veterans need someone to push a wheelchair or help navigating stairs,” said chaperone and photographer Julie Spieth. “But other times they just need a hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on. Our (high school) guardians do both.”
The three schools raise the money to pay for the trip through fund-raisers. Daisy frequently donates product for these fund-raisers, which is how Albright, a former Army Combat Engineer, got involved.
“I knew it was a worthy cause,” Albright said, “but actually going on an Honor Flight with them has left me flabbergasted.”
The 2-day schedule is grueling, both physically and emotionally. Stops include the Arlington National Cemetery for the Changing of the Guard, Iwo Jima Marine Memorial, Korean and Viet Nam Memorials and the White House, among others.
“It was a very emotional trip, and I know the high school students learned or strengthened their respect for these great men,” Albright said.
The schedule began for the veterans with a 7 a.m. flight to Baltimore, Md., on Sept. 21, but it started at 12:30 a.m. for the volunteers and high school aids. They drove through the night, picking up veterans at various Kansas cities as they made for the Kansas City airport.
Upon arrival in Baltimore, several hundred military supporters greeted the veterans with applause. By 11:45 a.m., they arrived at the Naval Memorial, then on to the Arlington National Cemetery and other memorials throughout the day. The next day followed a similar schedule, with the veterans paying respects at various memorials.
“The high schoolers are given written instructions that say that this trip is not about them, but about the veteran,” Albright said. “They sit with them on the bus and plane, walk with them at memorials, get their food – everything.
“It started raining at one of the stops, and I saw the high schoolers holding the umbrella over their assigned veteran and getting wet themselves. This is the kind of respect and treatment the veterans received throughout the trip.”
Albright said he saw bonds forming between veteran and their aids. Requests for volleyball schedules and such, and promises to attend. Some of the students had lost their grandparents and he could tell this trip made a special impact on them. However, he said that everyone involved strengthened his or her respect for these men.
“This pairing (of high schooler and veteran) bridges the generational gap, creating tolerance and understanding,” said school district coordinator Bobbi Williams. “It’s one thing to travel to D.C. and study history; it’s quite another to sit by history on the bus.”
Daisy is honored to be a part of this Honor Flight and thankful to the school districts involved and their students for the hard work and dedication involved in creating and administering a trip of this importance and magnitude.
“As emotional as seeing the veterans visit these somber memorials was, the high schoolers impressed me as much,” Albright said. “I saw 24 high school students get on the bus at the start of the trip, but 24 young adults got off at the end.”
For more information on the Honor Flight Network, to www.honorflight.org.
For more information on the specific Honor Flight mentioned in this feature – or to make a donation – go to https://www.usd505.org/Flight-honor.html