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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Local chapter of Honor Flight launches, flies veterans to D.C. memorials free of charge

96-year-old, three-time decorated veteran George VanVekoven spoke at the press conference earlier today about his experience with Honor Flight. Honor Flight Cape Fear Area launched a local chapter to fly 75 veterans and their companions for free to D.C., to visit national monuments and memorials. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Honor Flight of the Cape Fear Area)

WILMINGTON, NC—Earlier today at the Hannah Block USO, Honor Flight Cape Fear Area president and flight leader Ruth Ravitz Smith announced the launch of the local chapter of Honor Flight, which flies 75 veterans and their travel companions to Washington D.C. to see memorials erected in honor of their sacrifice and service.

Honor Flight started in 2005, after two pilots began flying World War II veterans to D.C. for free to see their memorial, according to Smith. Since, it has grown to include 132 hubs and chapters in 45 states across the U.S. To date they have flown over 240,000 World War II, Korea and Vietnam vets, as well as veterans with terminal illnesses that served in any tour.

“We will see the memorials and monuments around the National Mall,” Smith said at the press conference. “Those monuments include the World War II Memorial, Vietnam, Korea, Iwo Jima, Navy Memorial, Air Force Memorial; we’ll even observe the changing of the guards at Arlington Cemetery.”

Though the program existed in Wilmington briefly a few years back, it dispersed in 2011. This iteration of the Cape Fear chapter will charter its first flight on April 24, 2021 —  or as soon as it is safe to do so (Covid-19 prevented the national program from flying anyone to D.C. in 2020). Each trip covers the costs of the flight, food and drinks, and provides participants backpacks filled with supplies for their 16-hour day trip.

“We will then fly back to Wilmington that evening,” Smith said. “When we arrive back at ILM that night, we encourage the Wilmington community to come out in force to welcome our veterans home.”

96-year-old George VanVekoven, a.k.a. Van, is a decorated veteran from three wars. He spoke of his experience on an honor flight he took from Wilmington years ago.

“It’s pretty hard when you lose your friends,” he said, “but it was a beautiful day. And when we got back to the airport, my God, there were several thousand people there. One nice thing, on the way back, was they gave us a package of thank-you letters from the citizens in Wilmington. I had 70 letters.”

HFCFA estimates each trip to cost $100,000, which is funded by donations from the public, businesses and local organizations. The trips include police-escorted charter buses from the airport in Washington to the monuments, and provides wheelchairs and oxygen as needed. A volunteer staff and medical team will travel with the veterans.

Interested veterans can apply for the flight, and others can register to volunteer, on HFCA’s website.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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