By Ronald P. May Flyer correspondent
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — The Indy Honor Flight hub recently completed its third trip to Washington, D.C., bringing 70 Central Indiana World War II veterans.
Among the veteran group, eight were from Hendricks County: Joseph Macri (Marine Corps), Oscar McClure (Army), Howard McKnight (Army), Kenneth Paschall (Marines), Robert Pearcy (Navy), Rubert Smith (Army Air Force), George Tapscott (Army) and Harold Thompson (Army).
Several thousand family members, friends and citizens gathered at the Indianapolis International Airport in a parade-like atmosphere to clap, cheer and wave flags as the aged heroes from a war fought 70+ years ago passed by them one by one with large portraits of their service photos carried behind them by their trip “guardians.”
Volunteer guardians accompany the veterans on each trip.
The veterans, many of whom returned from World War II months after its end and never received a proper homecoming, were welcomed back in grand fashion as they walked out of the B Concourse and into the Civic Plaza that was adorned with flags, balloons, posters, and throngs of people.
A bagpipe procession led the way as each veteran and their guardian walked through a hallway of cheering people who had gathered to thank and welcome home their local heroes. Along the route, each veteran received a welcome home kiss from a woman dressed in 1940’s clothing.
At the end of the procession the veterans were reunited with their family members. Tears, smiles and hugs were evident everywhere.
The travel group of 149 people (70 veterans, 70 guardians and nine volunteer staff) had departed earlier Saturday morning for the all day trip to Washington, D.C.
Highlights of their excursion included stops at the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War and Vietnam War memorials and Arlington National Cemetery, where the group witnessed the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Four of the veterans helped place a wreath at the tomb.
On the flight home, the veterans enjoyed reading through cards and letters of thanks that were handed to them in the fashion of the “mail call” they had once looked forward to while serving overseas.
The average age of the veteran group was 89. The oldest veteran was 96 and the youngest was 85. A pair of brothers and one woman was also in the group.
With the completion of the third Indy Honor Flight, 220 Indiana veterans have been taken to Washington, D.C. But many more remain who have never seen the memorial erected in their honor. And with advanced age and declining health, time is running out for them. That’s why there is such urgency behind the mission of the Indy Honor Flight which began in 2012 to fly veterans free of charge to Washington, D.C., to see their memorial and enjoy a day of receiving thanks and honor.
Next year Indy Honor Flight has set the ambitious goal of taking four flights of veterans to D.C.
“We’ll be relying on some generous contributions from individuals and businesses to make that goal a reality,” said Grant Thompson, who started the Indy Honor Flight hub a year ago and serves as its director.
The next flight is scheduled for April of 2014, and there are already 60 veterans on a waiting list.
“If a veteran wants to go on one of our upcoming trips, he/she needs to apply right away,” Thompson said.
For more information on signing up a veteran, making a contribution, or volunteering with the organization, visit the website at www.indyhonorflight.org, find and like them on Facebook, or call 559-1600.
— Ronald P. May is the IndyHonor Flight communications/media representative.