To retired U.S. Air Force Col. Norm Wells, taking an Honor Flight meant finally reuniting with his old friend after years and years apart.
“Bob Gilchrist was flying out of (Thailand), and he was on his 98th mission over North Vietnam,” Wells said at the recent meeting of the local chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars. “When you do 100 (missions), you get to go home. He was going home in three weeks ... and he got shot down and was missing for a long time.”
Gilchrist was killed in the war, but his name lives on in Washington, D.C., at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Wells and former U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Bill White recently participated in the nonprofit Honor Flight program out of Austin, which takes veterans to many memorials in Washington, D.C. Their particular flight took 40-60 veterans for a two-day trip, with special accommodation for disabled veterans.
The nationwide Honor Flights organization formed in Ohio in 2005 and has since taken more than 200,000 veterans to see memorials in their honor. The wait time to apply for a flight takes between nine months and a year.
“It’s a highly organized and unbelievable experience,” White said. “Everywhere we went was VIP treatment.”
The trip started at the airport in Austin, where the veterans were greeted with applause at the terminal. The group received a police escort once they were in Washington, which was quite remarkable, White added.
“One of the highlights that got to me was when were were were down at (a memorial) and there were a whole bunch of school kids,” White said. “Every single group knew who we were, came over to us and thanked us. It really reinforced the hope for the next generation that they appreciate what’s been done.”
The days in Washington were packed, as the group visited memorials for the Korean War, Vietnam War, World War II, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps, the 911 Pentagon catastrophe, the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial, to name a few.
Both travelers said they were quite happy they got to go, since it instilled a greater appreciation for the sacrifices countless have made for the country.
For more information about the Honor Flight program, go to honorflightaustin.org.