A Tour of Honor for Vets
The Honor Flight Guard helps veterans travel to memorials
A veteran gazed at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., proud and excited.
"I walked in the battle of Guadalcanal, I'm going to walk to that memorial," the vet told the Honor Flight Guard standing beside his wheelchair. With a supportive lift, he slowly got up, faced the memorial and saluted.
When Kyle Hilbrecht, 14, heard that story he was even more determined to become one of those Honor Flight Guards. Since most of the Guards are adults aged 40 to 60, he knew it would be a difficult task.
The Honor Flight Network is an organization that provides funds for a Tour of Honor to Washington, D.C., for World War II veterans. Due to their age and frailty, veterans often require the assistance of volunteer Honor Flight Guardians who make their traveling experience easier.
Kyle's interest in World War II led to his interest in becoming a Honor Flight Guard. His interest was cultivated by his father, who is in the Kentucky Air National Guard.
The final push came from Don Chard, a family friend and veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He sent Kyle souvenirs from his days in the military and suggested that Kyle apply to be his Guardian for the Kentucky Bluegrass Honor Flight. The next day Don Chard unexpectedly died of a blood clot.
"I was pretty upset that he had died," Kyle told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps. "He was a great guy, and it was a terrible thing, but his dying motivated me."
Kyle realized the urgency of the Honor Flight cause. He learned that volunteers are essential for helping aging veterans see the memorials honoring their contributions. Honor Flight Guardians are expected to treat the veterans on their trip like family. They are also expected to pay for their own expenses.
"I talked to my school counselor about raising money for the Honor Flight," he said. "We began selling wristbands that say ‘Pray for our Troops' for $2 each through our school bookstore."
Kyle helped the Student Activities Council at his school raise nearly $2,000 for the trip, paying for himself and several veterans. He also had to fill out applications and send off multiple emails. His persistence paid off, and he was selected to be an Honor Flight Guardian for an October 2010 trip.
One veteran Kyle aided was 85-year-old former Naval Aviation Ordnanceman, Clinton Springate.
"I appreciate so much what everybody did for me," Springate said. "It was a great trip."
Both Kyle and Springate witnessed the emotional reactions of the veterans, as well as the response of the citizens who stopped to salute and applaud the military men visiting the memorial.
The reward for Kyle will be to provide more veterans the opportunity to salute the memorial, just like the man in the wheelchair. With the help of Honor Guardians, they can stand proud and be honored by their country once more, Kyle said.
"I never considered myself a hero, but that's what they considered us when we went there," Springate said. "I had so many people come and thank me for serving my country during World War II, and I really appreciate it."
Currently more than 200 veterans are a waiting list for a Tour of Honor. That's why Kyle is now working to raise awareness of the program—and more money.
"Our goal is to get recognition for the Honor Flight, because it is such a great thing," Kyle said.
For more information, check out the Honor Flight Guard website.
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