As another Honor Flight carries veterans from Central Florida to Washington, D.C., we pay tribute to the local Guardians who accompany them
As I write this, and as it’s printed, the latest journey by the nonprofit Honor Flight Central Florida is about to get underway. In late October, nearly 50 veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War will board a plane bound for the nation’s capital to visit in person the national monuments that were built to honor them. Each vet will be accompanied by their own volunteer Guardian, someone who pays for the privilege to care for their veteran’s every need during the trip and ensure they have a safe and positive experience. Also on the plane will be Honor Flight staff – including four paramedics – and one very humble guest who has been honored (pun intended) with the opportunity to tag along and document the experience of local veterans who will take part in the flight. That guest will be me.
By the time you read this, we will all be back, hopefully safe and sound. My full recap of the experience will be published in our January/February issue, but in advance of the flight, we wanted to preview the adventure and focus on local leaders who have served as Guardians on previous Honor Flights.
School Board Chairman Dr. Tina Calderone remembers vividly her honor flight and her assigned veteran, John.
“I’m a very emotional person, anyway,” says Tina, “and when I took John to the first memorial, he started crying, and then I started crying, and that’s pretty much how the whole day went.”
For Tina, her Honor Flight was also a family affair. Her husband Joe and their daughter Alexis also served as Guardians.
“It was very special for our family,” says Tina. “To be able to experience it together as a family was something we’ll never forget.”
Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari will never forget both the humor and intense sadness of his Honor Flight WWII veteran, Bill.
“Bill was worried he wouldn’t make it home in time to go dancing with his girlfriend,” Bob recalls, pointing out that Bill was in his 90s at the time. Jokes and stories about Bill’s love life were a constant source of levity during the Honor Flight, but Bill grew somber and serious when he and Bob reached the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“I asked him if he was OK, and he said, ‘I am and I’m not,’” remembers Bob. “Bill told me he wanted to find the name of his son.”
With the help of the memorial’s staff, Bill and Bob did locate the young man’s name on the memorial wall, and Bob helped the grieving father make an etching of his son’s name.
“Bill told me he was drafted into service but never saw combat,” says Bob. “His son volunteered to serve and was killed less than a month after his deployment. My heart goes out to Bill and all the men and women who served. They put their lives on the line to give us our freedom. Honor Flight is the least we can do to pay tribute to them and say thank you.”
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