Earl Morse, a retired Air Force Captain is the son of a Korean and Vietnam War veteran. Jeff Miller, a small business owner, is the son of a World War II veteran. In the spring of 2008, the late Kansas Senator Bob Dole nominated both Morse and Miller for the prestigious Presidential Citizens Medal, which was awarded to the men by President George W. Bush in December that same year.
Neither Morse nor Miller has Kansas connections, but both have touched the lives of more than 3,600 Kansas veterans by initiating a mass movement that transports veterans to our nation’s capital to view the monuments built in their honor.
Morse, a physician’s assistant who worked in a Department of Veteran Affairs clinic in Springfield, Ohio, realized in 2004 that many of his patients who served in WWII would not have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit the recently completed memorials. A pilot himself, Morse reached out to other pilots, and in May 2005 six small planes transporting 12 WWII vets made their way to the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. Honor Flight was born.
The following year, Miller founded Honor Air, organizing and garnering funding to fly a commercial plane filled with North Carolina veterans to the WWII Memorial. The two men combined efforts in 2006 and co-founded the Honor Flight Network, which now includes flights originating in more than 130 U.S. cities, in 46 states including Kansas.
While originally focused on honoring the nation’s WWII veterans, the Honor Flight Network has expanded its mission to those who served in the Korean War, Vietnam War, intermediary operations, and veterans from more recent service eras who have a terminal illness or injury.
Since its formation in 2005, the Honor Flight Network has taken more than 245,000 veterans to Washington, D.C., serving over 22,000 of these heroes each year.
The Kansas Honor Flight launched in 2012, and has flown more than 3,600 Kansas veterans to Washington, D.C., along with their guardians, to show the country’s appreciation for their service and sacrifices.
Because of the commitment of thousands of volunteers and donors, the trips for the vets are fully paid, with the guardians paying their own expenses. No federal, state or local funds support this endeavor, rather a grateful nation of patriots with hearts of gold ensure these well-deserving vets experience the impact of the war memorials in person and with their comrades, swapping stories and memories during the three-day, two-night trip.
The pinnacle and most memorable, perhaps, for the vets is the welcome home celebration upon their return from Washington, D.C., a celebration most did not experience after serving their county. Among a sea of smiles and a few tears, the vets are greeted by family, friends and Honor Flight volunteers dressed in red, white and blue waving flags and holding signs of support.
The Honor Flight article in this issue introduces readers to a few of the thousands of Kansas veterans who have experienced an Honor Flight and volunteers who make it happen. Innumerable untold stories remain, and we welcome our readers to share a brief description of the experience, either personal or of a relative or friend who has completed an Honor Flight, along with a photo if available. We will highlight these throughout the upcoming months to ensure these stories are shared and preserved for generations to come. Please submit the information to https://kclonline.com/submit-a-photo and use the Additional Comments box to include a brief description.
Chances are most of us know of or have a veteran in our life. I encourage you to sit down and talk with them, even if to ask just one question. These conversations will help to ensure their legacy will live on even when they are no longer with us and remind them of the difference they have made in the lives of their fellow Americans.