DAVENPORT, Iowa — “I have seen it 58 times now — and it never gets old,” said Steve Garrington, the director of the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, a regional hub of the national Honor Flight program, that flies military veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam to Washington to visit the memorials of those wars.
Honor Flight Network is a national nonprofit organization that was founded in 2005, shortly after the World War II Memorial was dedicated in D.C.
The original goal was to fly World War II veterans to Washington to see the memorial dedicated to their war and their fallen comrades.
Today, the network has 124 active hubs in 44 states. The Honor Flight Network has transported some 275,000 veterans to Washington.
One of those hubs is the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities. Garrington, an Army veteran, took over as director of the hub in 2015.
Since it started in 2008, the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities has conducted 58 flights to Washington, transporting some 5,500 veterans to the nation’s capitol.
In addition to arranging the flights, a primary mission of the hub is to find veterans to go on the flights.
“We need veterans,” Garrington said.
Garrington, who goes on a flight or two each year to see what can be done to improve the experience, sees the flights as something beyond a trip to see the war memorials.
For U.S. military who served in Korea and Vietnam, there were no ticker-tape parades, no national victory celebrations.
“This is the only parade they’re going to get. It wasn’t ‘the war is over, welcome home.’ It was ‘somebody else is going over and you’re coming back,’” Garrington said. “The welcome home was not quite there like Audie Murphy received or that Sergeant York received.”
Garrington and his volunteers continue to spread the word to get veterans that overdue welcome home parade.
“We get the word out any way we can think of. We do radio, TV and newspaper interviews. We send out information to nursing homes, to the VA, to veterans’ groups like the American Legion and the VFW. We also go out and speak to groups,” Garrington said.
“Some of us will be at speaking engagements for Veterans Day events coming up. We always mention how much we are trying to find veterans to go on the flight.”
Garrington said the most common reasons that veterans may give for not going are concerns about costs and having to go on the flight by themselves.
“We keep telling them it’s free. You don’t have to pay. We tip the drivers. We take care of everything,” he said.
As for the concern about being alone on the flight and the trip, Garrington has waiting lists of guardians, who accompany each veteran and help out with anything they might need.
The flight is a daylong event, starting before sunrise when veterans meet at the airport and board their flight to Washington.
They spend the day in D.C., visiting the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, where veterans watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The flight arrives back at Quad Cities International Airport around 10 p.m.
“They will say, ‘well, I don’t have anybody to go with.’ Well, I have 200 people who are just dying to go with a veteran right now,” Garrington said.
Garrington said he encourages family members and friends of veterans to download, print out and fill out the application to go on a flight.
Applications for veterans and for guardians are located at http://honorflightqc.org/application-forms.
“The best way, we’ve found, is for someone who is concerned that a veteran hasn’t gone is to download an application, print it out and then say ‘let’s fill it out together’ with their veteran, have them sign it and then send it in for them,” Garrington said.
“Someone who is concerned that a veteran hasn’t gone will take the initiative to make sure the paperwork gets done. It’s just filling out a form and sending it in.”
Honor Flight Network was started to get World War II veterans out to see their war memorial, but the majority of the veterans are veterans of the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Garrington said the faces of the veterans as they step off the plane in Washington — to a line of applause from the public — is the best reward for himself and his volunteers.
“It never gets old. The greatest thing is to see the look on the veterans’ faces, see a tear coming down, a smile, to see a hug. Those things are worth far more than you could possibly imagine,” he said.
For more information on Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, go to https://honorflightqc.org/
To find the Honor Flight hub that serves your area, go to www.honorflight.org/find-a-hub/.