Honor Flight Huntington provides healing to combat veterans

The Honor Flight Huntington gives the opportunity for veterans to experience healing in the nation’s capital, a Vietnam veteran aboard the flight said on Saturday in Washington, D.C. 

“It has been a fantastic experience for all of us veterans,” Estill Jarvis, U.S. Navy Vietnam Veteran, said. “I think a lot of us feel that it’s therapeutic, and it also lets people understand a little bit more about what we went through. Healing is what it is all about in my opinion.”

The Honor Flight gives veterans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by taking them on a direct flight to D.C. free of charge to see the monuments resurrected in their honor, with priority given to survivors from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The Honor Flight program was created in 2005 and since then, the organization has taken over 190,000 veterans to D.C. to see the monuments in person.

“I think the program is very important for our country,” Raymond Rice, a U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran, said. “We have got to pay respect to those who have fought, served and died for this country, and this flight is one way to honor them. It’s something that we can take back and pass on to our own children.”

Honor Flight Huntington, coordinated by Amy Johnson and Dan Johnson, is open to West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania veterans and has taken over 1,000 veterans to D.C. on 11 separate flights since 2013.

This year, the flight took five WWII veterans, 13 Korean War veterans and 81 Vietnam veterans to D.C., many of which had never been to the nation’s capital.

Amy Johnson, Honor Flight hub director, said that the Honor Flight is a great way to show veterans that people care about and respect them, especially the Vietnam veterans who had a different experience than those coming back from World War II and the Korean War. 

“Everybody they encounter on the trip, not just with Honor Flight, but just the people in general, treat them with respect,” Amy Johnson said. “Especially for our Vietnam veterans, it’s something they are definitely not used to.”

Amy Johnson and her husband, Dan Johnson, a U.S. Navy Veteran, first volunteered for the organization in 2013 and have both helped coordinate every flight since their first time experiencing the event.

“For me, it’s the smile on their faces, showing that all these people really do care about them, that’s what makes it worth it,” Amy Johnson said.

The group of over 150 people, including volunteers, were given a police escort through out the city, allowing the group to visit the U.S. Marine Corps Monument, U.S. Air Force Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial and Vietnam War Memorial within eight hours.

After visits to the various monuments, veterans received “mail call,” in which each veteran was presented with a bundle of letters of thanks and gratitude from their fellow Americans. These bundles could include a hand-written letter or a coloring page from a young child thanking them, as well as an official letter from the White House.

The veterans arrived back at the Huntington Tri-State Airport later the same evening, greeted by a crowd of people from the community showing their support by carrying signs or flags and expressing their gratitude for the veterans’ service.

“We definitely want to thank the community for coming out and taking the time to show their support as well, it’s a group effort,” Amy Johnson said.

The Honor Flight does not receive any state or federal funding, and is made possible solely through the help of volunteers from the local community.

“I have some volunteers that go every year, and a lot of my veterans who have already gone will come back and go again as volunteers for their fellow veterans,” Amy Johnson said. “I can’t do this without them. All of our volunteers pay their own way to be able to help out with the flight, donating both of their time and their money for our veterans.” 

The Honor Flight will have its next West Virginia event in the spring of 2020 in Clarksburg. Those interesting in finding more information about veteran applications or how to volunteer for the flight may visit www.honorflighthuntington.org.

Blake Newhouse can be contacted at [email protected]