The coronavirus pandemic has canceled all Honor Flights since November 2019, as well as the celebrations that greets the vets when they land at PBIA.
South Florida veterans will return to the skies next month as Honor Flights resume visits to Washington, D.C., that allow veterans to pay their respects to their fallen compatriots and reflect on their service to their country.
The Southeast Florida Honor Flight organization will send about 65 veterans, their chosen guardians and volunteers to Washington on Nov. 6 for the first Honor Flight since November 2019.
Southeast Florida Honor Flight coordinator Veronica Stein said she heard veterans tell her, “I’ve been waiting so long for this day,” as she made the calls to tell each veteran it was their turn to go on an Honor Flight.
“We have 600 veterans currently on our waiting list, so we are thrilled to resume our mission,” she said.
Honor Flights are available to veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The organization pays for roundtrip airfare on the single-day journey, where veterans will visit the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Air Force Memorial and the National Iwo Jima Memorial. From beginning to end, the day is filled with thanks, appreciation and tributes to their service, organizers say.
From 2019: Coronavirus: Veterans’ honor flights from PBIA to D.C. grounded
More: Coronavirus: Taps for World War II vet witnessed by only a few
History of Honor FlightsFor some, Honor Flights represent their only opportunity to travel to the nation’s capital and see the monuments erected to their sacrifices.
The first Honor Flight occurred in May 2005, when six small planes flew out of Springfield, Ohio, and brought 12 World War II veterans on a journey to visit their memorial in Washington.
The mission took off, and in August of that year, a waiting list of veterans led the organization’s transition to commercial airline carriers so they could accommodate as many veterans as possible.
Passengers on the November Honor Flight will represent Palm Beach and Martin counties. There will be 12 World War II veterans, 30 Korean War veterans, and 13 Vietnam veterans on the flight, although those numbers are subject to change.
A female veteran of the Korean War also will be on the flight, according to a news release.
Of the 65 passengers, 34 will represent the Army, 17 will represent the Air Force, 10 will represent the Navy, three will represent the Marine Corps and one will represent the Merchant Marines.
Honor flight to remember veterans lost during pandemicWhile organizers say Honor Flights are always long and emotional days for veterans, the November flight will mark a moment of somber triumph after two years and three Honor Flight seasons were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
But the pause comes at an immense cost.
About 21 eligible veterans died before being able to attend an Honor Flight, among more than 700,000 Americans who have died due to COVID-19.
To honor those lost, the Honor Flight will bring photos of the late veterans to their respective memorials and photograph their symbolic trip to Washington.
Typically, the organization bestows the veterans’ families with flags when they return to the airport. Due to the number of lost veterans, the organization cannot organize that ceremony at the airport this year, according to organizers.
The community is invited to welcome the veterans home from their flight at 8:05 p.m. Nov. 6 at Palm Beach International Airport on Level 2, Concourse A/B. Often called “operation homecoming,” the gathering marks the welcome home many veterans never received.
For more information on Operation Homecoming, call 1-855-FLYAVET (855-359-2838).