LUBBOCK, Texas - The Texas South Plains Honor Flight is just hours away from their annual flight to Washington, D.C., taking in total 84 veterans from our Lone Star State. The best part of if all is that the trip is free of charge for all veterans, thanks to local and regional donations.
"The cost of the trip is right at a quarter of a million dollars. We charter a jet, we charter three buses, we stay at the Hilton there in Alexandria, Virginia, so all the money is donated," Gary Vaughn, former president of the Texas South Plains Honor Flight, said.
The people of the South Plains have been very generous in supporting veterans, he said.
It's a three-day trip for the veterans to not only see the memorials in D.C., but also to lay wreaths for fallen soldiers, walk the floor of Congress and reconnect with other veterans to share their experiences with one another.
It's a memorable trip for the vets, but also for their loved one and friends.
"We take families as guardians, and when those families get to D.C., these guys experience things that they really don't want to talk about and they don't want to tell family members because you and I don't understand the things they did," Vaughn said, "but when they get up there with their comrades who did they same thing they did, they'll start telling stories and the family members go, 'I've never heard any of these stories.'"
Vaughn said veterans often don't want to burden family members with what they did and what they saw.
"I actually feel like it's therapeutic for some of these guys because they get to get some of that stuff off their chest," he said, "and they get to talk about it. It's good for them, and we love it."
And for one World War II veteran on his honor flight, he laid the wreath for a fallen comrade, but little did he know it would be the last thing he would do.
Vaughn was there and shares his story:
"Two years ago, I was lead medical person and we went up there, and we had a gentleman from World War II that had laid a wreath that Friday evening when we got there. Saturday morning, his guardian woke up and the gentleman was sick in bed, so he called and I went upstairs to check him out. He was pretty sick, so we call the ambulance and we took him to the hospital so I stayed with him for 13 hours in the ER that day and this gentleman was in World War II , and he was on the USS Indianapolis, which was the ship that took the bomb over to Hiroshima and they were in radio silence, so nobody knew they were there or when they left or where there were going. And, it's the one that got torpedoed by the Japanese sub and sunk and then all those guys were stuck in the water, so a bunch of these guys got eaten by sharks. Well, this gentleman was on that ship. I mean you can't imagine the things these guys go through."
He said, "They fixed his problem, but he had a heart attack while he was in the hospital, and he passed there in D.C. But, the family was very gracious, and they said that they he felt like he got to lay the wreath and did his part. It was a tough day, it was."
Vaughn says he hope that this small gesture shows the love, compassion and appreciation the people of this country have for all veterans and the sacrifices they have made for us. But it's true stories like these that keep the volunteers of the South Plains Honor Flight dedicated to raising money to ensure their mission continues year after year.
The National Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing our veterans with an opportunity to travel free of charge to Washington, D.C. and in 2017, a total of 20,631 Veterans were flown to Washington, D.C. and of those, there were 84 veterans flown from Lubbock.
There were four veterans from World War II, 25 from the Korean War, 51 from the Vietnam War and four from other wars. In total since 2005, there have been 200,892 veterans flown, of which 560 were flown from Lubbock, and 143,384 guardians, of which 416 were flown from Lubbock.
There are 132 Honor Flight hubs and 46 states with Honor Flight organizations. Currently, there are 35,487 veterans awaiting their flight to Washington, D.C.
There are a number of ways that you can be a part of this cause, but volunteering your time and making a donation are two major ways of helping to keep this effort going.
"We do appreciate what they did and what they sacrificed so that we can do the things that we're doing today," Vaughn said. "That's the only way that's possible. You know we have a saying in honor flight and that is that if you can read what we're showing you, then you need to thank a teacher, but because you're reading it in English, you need to thank a veteran."
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