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Published: Monday, 3/3/2008

Veterans aid group setting up a local unit

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A charity that sponsors travel to Washington so veterans can visit war memorials is establishing a northwest Ohio chapter, which may help bump local veterans up the travel wait-list more quickly.

The Honor Flight Network is primarily geared toward World War II veterans who want to visit their war's memorial, but terminally ill vets from other conflicts also are supported by the charity, said Dee Pakulski, director of the newly established Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, which plans to run its first Washington trip on April 30.

Honor Flight arranges group travel, either on commercial flights or sometimes charters, from across the country to Washington, Ms. Pakulski said.

In the past, veterans from northwest Ohio have been accommodated on trips arranged by other Honor Flight "hubs," such as a group from Defiance that flew last summer on a charter from Toledo Express Airport that was paid for with more than $60,000 in donations raised by a Defiance VFW post.

Having a distinct chapter in the Toledo area should enable more of those local veterans to travel sooner, depending on the success of local fund-raising efforts, Ms. Pakulski said.

"Establishing a northwest Ohio hub gives them the opportunity to fly quicker, and from closer to home," the chapter director said.

Nationwide, the charity has sponsored trips for more than 5,000 veterans since its inception in 2005.

Honor Flight trips are usually done in one day, with an early morning departure and an evening return from Washington.

If a participant first has to travel several hours to reach the departure point, hotel stays before or after the flights could be an insurmountable cost, Ms. Pakulski said.

The World War II memorial was finished in 2004, nearly 60 years after that conflict ended. Since then, Honor Flight has been in "a desperate race against the clock" to provide its all-expenses-paid trips to the war's surviving veterans before they die. The organization typically schedules trips between April and November.

How many can be accommodated varies with the condition of those high on the waiting list, Ms. Pakulski said. If a relatively high number use wheelchairs or otherwise need assistance, she explained, that reduces the remaining capacity on the buses Honor Flight hires to transport the veterans from the Washington airports to the memorials.

For now, she said, the charity plans to accommodate 30 to 35 people on the April trip, out of about 125 in the Toledo area who are on its waiting list.

"Of course, the more publicity we have, the more veterans we have that hear about it and want to go too," Ms. Pakulski said.

Donations to Honor Flight Northwest Ohio may be made through the organization's Web site, honorflightnwo.org; by mail to P.O. Box 23108, Toledo, OH, 43623; by phoning 419-410-7729, or making a deposit directly to Honor Flight at any KeyBank branch.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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