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Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 9:52pm
El Paso (KDBC) — Honor Flight, a national organization, has come to El Paso. Honor Flight transports veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their war memorials, with priority given to senior veterans and veterans who are terminally ill. Currently, the focus is on World War II and Korean War veterans.
“It’s amazing,” said Jill Gomez, grant writer, Honor Flight Southern New Mexico. “It was 60 years before they built a memorial for WWII. So many of these veterans have never been to Washington, D.C. to see the memorial.”
An El Paso local, Gomez and her husband Fred, were inspired when they learned about the initiative.
After learning there were no Honor Flights in El Paso, but there was an active hub in Las Cruces, the couple contacted the southern New Mexico group.
“They just embraced us right away,” Jill said. “They expanded their boundaries and now it is Las Cruces and El Paso.”
The flight is open to veterans who have not yet traveled to Washington, D. C., to see their memorial built to honor them and the Soldiers who fought beside them. The entire trip is planned and paid for by the non-profit organization. Medical issues do not automatically preclude a veteran from participating, as long as their physician gives the okay, Honor Flight will take them.
The goal for this first year is to have 50 El Paso veterans on the Honor Flight scheduled for Oct. 6 through 8.
“There’s no cost whatsoever,” Jill said. “Honor Flight covers the airfare, the food and the hotel – it’s just a gift to them. There are ceremonies every step of the way … They travel that first day and then the second day they go to see the memorials. They go to see the WWII Memorial, the Korean Conflict Memorial, then they go to Arlington National Cemetery and they see the Changing of the Guard. On the third day, they fly back and there are people waiting at the El Paso airport to honor them.”
Every veteran is provided a ‘guardian’ to accompany them on the trip. The guardian is a volunteer who pays their own way and works to provide anything the veteran might need – whether it is navigating through the airport and checking the veteran into a hotel, or just serving as a social companion.
Each guardian pays $1000 to cover the cost of their flight, food and hotel and receives training in advance for the job. It is not necessary for a veteran to find or schedule a guardian to go with them; there are always plenty of volunteers.
Honor Flight is funded entirely through donation and every dollar donated goes toward the cost of providing this trip for a veteran. All other attendees must pay their own way.
“I think what speaks greatest about the program, (is that) some of the gentlemen who went (in 2013) were so moved that they paid $1000 so that in 2014 another veteran can go.” Jill said. “Many of them have never shared their stories before and when they go to the memorial, they are with people that were in that war when they were in that war.”
If you are interested in more information for yourself or a veteran you know; if you would like to go as a guardian, or if you would like to make a donation, visit www.honorflightnm.com. It is important to register and make your donations through the Southern New Mexico site, as anything done through the national site will cause significant time delays.