In May of 2004, the WWII Memorial was completed and dedicated in Washington D.C. This quickly became the topic of discussion among WWII Veterans who were patients at a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Springfield, Ohio.
Earl Morse, a Retired Air Force Captain who is also a Physician Assistant at the clinic, asked these Veterans if they would ever travel out to visit their Memorial. Most felt that eventually, somehow, they would make it. As summer turned to fall, and then to winter, these same Veterans returned to the clinic for their follow-up visits. Earl asked if they accomplished their dream of visiting the WWII Memorial. By now, reality had settled in. It was clear to most that it simply was not financially or physically possible for them to make the journey. Most of these WWII heroes were in their 80s and unable to complete a trip on their own. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time. Earl could tell that the majority of the Veterans had given up all hope of ever visiting the memorial that was created to honor their services and the services of their fellow comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Earl is also a private pilot. In December of 2004, he asked one of his WWII Veteran patients if he could personally fly him out to
Washington D.C., free of charge, to visit his Memorial. The gentleman broke down and cried. He said at his age he knew he would probably never get to see his Memorial. He accepted the offer. A second Veteran was asked the same question a week later. His response was the same.
In January, 2005, Earl addressed members of an aero club, outlining a volunteer program to fly Veterans to their Memorial. There were two major stipulations to his request. The first was that the Veterans pay nothing. The entire aircraft rental would have to be paid solely by the pilots. The second was that the pilots personally escort the Veterans around D.C. the entire day. Eleven pilots who had never met his patients volunteered.
Honor Flight Was Born.
The mission and ideals of the program began to spread across America. Jeff Miller led the expansion into areas not serviced by direct commercial flights to Washington D.C. by arranging charter flights out of Hendersonville, North Carolina. Similar organizations began to follow suit. Earl and Jeff combined efforts and co-founded the Honor Flight Network.
Other dedicated volunteers joined, a board was formed, funds were raised and the first flight took to the air in May of 2005. Soon other flights were planned and successfully accomplished. So many Veterans wanted to participate that by the end of the year Honor Flight began using commercial aircraft.