The Ultimate Honor

When the flight arrives in Moline, the vets and especially the Vietnam veterans who were never really welcomed home, get the welcoming they deserve as 700-900 people are waiting for them to arrive at the airport. Pictured is from the Honor Flight in 2019. File photo

AMBOY – Many memorials, tributes, and celebrations have been had and will continue to take place for the men and women who have fought in wars for the United States.

One high honor paying tribute and thanks to area veterans is the Honor Flight where former soldiers and officers are taken by air to Washington D.C. for a day all about them.

Lee County Honor Flight has room in its one flight a year for veterans from Lee County, Ogle County and any other surrounding counties. The only requirement is the man/woman was enlisted in the military (whether in battle or not) during World War II, the Vietnam War, or the Korean War.

Jim Travi of Amboy has been involved with Lee County Honor Flight (has sent over 500 vets to Washington D.C.) and Quad Cities Honor Flight (5,000 veterans under its belt) for five years as he helps veterans recognize the opportunity and have fun when they step aboard.

He also helps raise donations through fundraisers or individuals as the Honor Flight is not federally or state funded. The annual event costs approximately $80,000. 

The next Honor Flight celebrating our local veterans in Oct. 4. Here is what the highest honor of all – literally, since it’s on a plane – entails.

Orientation

About a week before the flight, the veterans and Honor Flight personal meet to go over the trip. 

Each veteran is assigned a guardian during the trip to Washington D.C. for safety and companionship. If they are not bringing their own, they will meet their guardian at the orientation. They will also find out which bus (options are red, white or blue bus) they are riding on from Amboy to Moline before they load the plane at the Quad City International Airport fly to Washington D.C.  The staff also double checks each bus to make sure there is enough equipment (such as canes and wheelchairs), and essentials for every rider.

Morning of the flight

All Honor Flight passengers will meet at the Dixon VFW Post 540 at 5 a.m. to load buses.

If a veteran doesn’t want to ride the bus, they can meet at the Quad Cities airport.

Chartered Flight

The plane usually leaves at 7 a.m. and lands at Dulles International Airport around 9-10 a.m. to the action-packed day of memorial activities.

“One thing that is neat about going through the airport when we arrive is that the local schools, especially the grade schools, have field trips to the airport,” said Travi, who didn’t serve in the military, but stays involved to honor family members who fought for our country. “These little kids are welcoming the veterans to Washington D.C. with signs.

“In 2019, I was walking through the airport with a Korean veteran. A little girl, probably third or fourth grade, reached over to him and asked, ‘Sir, can I give you a hug?’ He gave her hug. It was a tearjerker. From that point, several other kids hugged the veterans.” 

Air Museum

The crew gets on three buses, again the options are red, white, or blue to make its way to the first stop of the day. The Air Museum has planes from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

“I was with a Vietnam Vet in May of 2019. As I walked around with him, we got to the choppers and he filled up with tears,” said Travi, who was a teacher, has been an investor for 30 years, and is a member of the Amboy Lions Club and the Knights of Columbus. “The veteran said, ‘I was a gunner on one of these helicopters that flew in to get the wounded out. It brings back a lot of memories.’

“Once we leave the museum, we have a police escort. It is amazing to see how honored and respected people are to see the veterans move through traffic and how the guards and policemen go about it. People ask how we do everything so quickly. Well, a police escort moves you through all traffic with no issue.”

Arlington Cemetery

“We time it well, so we’ll see the changing of the guard. Usually, not every time but most of the time, the guard that is coming off duty will come out and talk to the veterans,” Travi said. “They answer all their questions about what tomb guards go through. It’s an amazing training that they have to go through.”

The veterans are given about an hour to check out all monuments and honored resting places.

Air Force Memorial

Travi said if the Air Force Memorial was erected during 9-11, the airplane that terrorists drove into the Pentagon would have hit the top of the memorial before they reached the Pentagon.

On the Honor Flight trip, the veterans have a chance for remembrance at the special monument.

Self-Guided Tour

After lunch in downtown D.C., the veterans are welcome to check out neighboring memorials on their own time. They have a couple hours off guided schedule to visit places such as the Abraham Lincoln Monument, the Vietnam War Monument, or the Korean War Monument.

Travi mentioned, on the incredible granite wall at the Korean Memorial, there are etchings and pictures in the wall that disappear in the rain. Once it stops raining or the granite dries, the etchings reappear.

World War II Memorial

“In 2004, President George W. Bush dedicated the World War II Memorial. It is an unbelievable memorial,” Travi said. “It is designed with the Atlantic theater and the Pacific theater with all of the battles. It’s surrounded by the flags of each of the 50 states. This is huge. It’s in line between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capital.”

Women in Military Service for America Memorial

Whether there are women veterans on the Honor Flight or not, there will be a stop at the women’s memorial for those who served during war.

The Flight Home/Mail Time

“When we get on the plane in Moline to leave for Washington D.C., the plane is quiet for the first 20-30 minutes. A lot of the vets don’t know each other, so there isn’t a lot of talking,” Travi said. “Then they start opening up and talking. By the time we get to D.C. they’re visiting with each other and starting to make friends.

“On one trip, the two vets sitting in front of me found out they were only a couple of miles apart when they were stationed in Vietnam. I’ve stayed in contact with them and they tell me that they meet up once or twice a year.

“On the way back from Washington D.C., now everyone is talking because they’ve spent an entire day together. Now you can’t hear yourself think because of the talking and visiting.”

About 25 minutes away from the Quad Cities International Airport, it’s time for mail call.

Every veteran on the plane receives an envelope full of mail.

“We try to contact every veteran’s family. We have them write a letter to their family member who is a veteran,” Travi said. “We collect all of them and put them in an envelope. We have school kids in this area that will write them thank you letters. 

“From the moment we hand out those envelopes, you could hear a pin drop in the plane. It’s quiet. I would say over half of the vets will have tears in their eyes and running down their cheeks as they’re reading the letters. Especially for the Vietnam vets because they unfortunately were not welcomed home like veterans from other wars.”

Travi added, when the flight arrives in Moline, the vets and especially the Vietnam veterans who were never really welcomed home, get the welcoming they deserve as 700-900 people are waiting for them to arrive at the airport around 10:30 p.m.

“It always feels good to help people,” Travi said. “If everybody would give back just a little bit when they have time, our world would be a lot happier.”

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