In the weeks leading up to Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio's trip to Washington Wednesday, eight of the 80 World War II veterans booked on the flight canceled for health reasons or -- in one case -- death.
"The window to get these guys to Washington, D.C., is closing rapidly," Honor Flight spokesman Jim Tichy said.
To get as many area World War II veterans to the nation's capital to see the memorial built in honor of their service, the Toledo-based Honor Flight chapter has gone from taking 25 veterans to Washington at a time to 80. Findlay-based Flag City Honor Flight plans to hold its inaugural flight June 8, also taking 80 veterans to see their memorial.
Vaun Wickerham, media and public relations coordinator for Flag City Honor Flight, said the youngest veterans on the flight are in their early 80s, and the oldest is 96. As in the Toledo chapter, one man who planned to make next month's trip died recently.
"It's a reality of what we're dealing with," Mr. Wickerham said.
Since Honor Flight launched its first flight from Toledo Express Airport in 2008, it has taken 542 veterans to Washington on 18 flights. Mr. Tichy said not only does the urgency increase each year, support for the program has as well.
"People in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan have really been stepping up, and their generosity is coming through," Mr. Tichy said. "We have had organizations help us out. We've had tremendous support from individuals.
"The board figured that they could take the next step and charter a larger aircraft because the finances are there," he said.
Honor Flight took 80 veterans to Washington on its first flight of the year April 18. Eighty more will go Wednesday.
For Wednesday's flight, two churches -- Hope Baptist in Toledo and Cornerstone Baptist in Findlay -- joined to sponsor the trip financially and provide 25 volunteer guardians to accompany the veterans. Guardians -- one for every veteran on board -- pay their own way.
Cornerstone Pastor Walt Sheppard said church members donated some $12,500 in a single freewill offering.
"We were just so happy to help," Pastor Sheppard said. "We have a church that's heavily populated with veterans. We have Veterans Day every year; it's a huge thing. To us, we want our veterans to know we love them, we appreciate their sacrifice. We really do."
Jonathan Marshall, an assistant pastor at Hope Baptist, said his church also puts a big emphasis on veterans, holding a major Veterans Day steak dinner each November for about 200 Toledo area veterans.
"Our pastor is very supportive of the military. He grew up in an Air Force home," he said.
Among the 80 veterans on Wednesday's flight is Roland Walton, a member of the Hope congregation and Army veteran who had been on the Honor Flight waiting list for more than two years.
Mr. Tichy said that after Wednesday's flight, Honor Flight still will have some 350 World War II veterans on its waiting list.
"Amazingly, we still get applications in the office every week, but yes we are chipping away at the waiting list," he said.
A fund-raiser for Honor Flight will be held from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at the 180th Fighter Wing, 2660 South Eber Rd., near Swanton.
Honor Flight and the 180th are sponsoring a "Stage Door Canteen" modeled after events held during World War II to offer servicemen an evening of dancing, entertainment, food, and nonalcoholic beverages. Informatio is available at the Honor Flight Northwest Ohio Web site, honorflightnwo.org.
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