Guests of Honor

Honor Flight AZ takes Sun Health veterans to U.S. capital

By Shanna Hogan

Wearing matching yellow shirts, a group of 30 retired military veterans trooped through Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor International Airport.

As they passed through a sea of waiting passengers, the crowd parted and began cheering for the veterans. The men were on their way to Washington, D.C. for an Honor Flight — a three-day journey to tour historic military sites.

“When we first walked through the terminal in Phoenix all the other passengers were clapping and saying ‘thank you for your service,’” says Larry Sly, a Korean War veteran and Colonnade resident who went on the trip. “And when we arrived in Baltimore they did the same thing. It became very emotional. It was certainly more than what we expected.”

The March 12 excursion included 19 Korean War veterans and 11 veterans of World War II — eight of whom are Sun Health residents from The Colonnade and Grandview Terrace campuses.

This was the 70th flight by Honor Flight Arizona since its inception in 2009. In the last nine years the nonprofit organization has flown more than 1,700 veterans to Washington at no cost to the veteran.

Korean War veteran Jack Gossett, 89, went on an honor flight in May 2017 and was so moved by the experience he helped organized the March excursion for his Sun Health neighbors who are honorees.

“There are quite a few veterans at all three Sun Health campuses,” says Jack, a resident of The Colonnade.

The national Honor Flight program started in 2005 to provide veterans of all branches of service a chance to tour historic Washington memorials. The groups visit memorials commemorating their sacrifices to our country including: Korean, Vietnam and World War II memorials, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington National Cemetery. All expenses are paid for by the nonprofit, which organizes regular fundraisers.

During the trip, veterans get to see the way their impact was memorialized and gain a greater perspective on their service.

“It was a very moving experience for me — the response from people when we walked out was just amazing,” Jack says. “It was emotional, especially considering how people didn’t care much for the military during the Vietnam War period.”

Larry heard about the flight from Jack and, at first, he wasn’t sure he would qualify. He joined the Air Force in 1955 shortly after the Korean War and served mostly in a support role.

But as Jack informed him, the tours are for qualifying veterans in all branches of the Korean War and World War II.

“It’s not the point whether you were in combat or not. You don’t have to be shot at to be a veteran,” Jack says. “Rank is immaterial. We don’t care what it was — just the fact that you were there in the military.”

Viewing the memorials in person was a stirring experience for Larry, especially the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Arlington Cemetery.

“It’s really a very humbling experience to realize all these memorials were built on the sacrifice of military people before us,” he says.

Grandview Terrace resident Glenn Weavers is a Korean War veteran who served as a combat engineer toward the tail end of the war. He lived in South Korea for 16 months helping construct roads, bridges and schools that had been destroyed in the war.

“At the time I was in Korea, there wasn’t any shooting,” Glenn says. “The area was totally destroyed. We were there to help them rebuild it.”

Glenn first heard about the Honor Flights two years ago and applied. The way he was treated during the trip gave him renewed pride for his service.

“We had an opportunity to see many of the things that we heard a great deal about over the years. It was a fantastic trip,” he says.

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