Central Missouri Honor Flight to resume flights in September

The program gives veterans the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. to see memorials built in their honor.

Ray Bassett, a World War II veteran who speaks for the Honor Flight program, hates being called a hero.

The only heroes he knows, Bassett said, are the soldiers, even some of his buddies, who did not return home from war alive.

Bassett said he went on an Honor Flight on Oct. 13, 2009, for the men he knew who couldn’t do the same — the heroes.

“This is a part of what I believe Honor Flight to be all about: Giving World War II vets who can, to go out and see the memorial that was built in their memory – to give them a chance to do something that is significant and has meaning and purpose on behalf of their buddies,” he said.

Honor Flights across the country bring war veterans from their homes to Washington, D.C., where they view the memorials constructed in their honor, at no cost to them. The organization also provides guardians, volunteers who travel with the veterans, to ensure their safety. An Honor Flight for 60 Central Missouri veterans will depart Sept. 6.

Shelley Becker, an Honor Flight guardian who will participate in the Sept. 6 event, said community members are encouraged to attend the Homecoming Celebration for the veterans at 11 p.m. that night.

“When we get off the buses, we kind of relinquish the veterans then,” she said. “We step back even further as guardians because now there are people lined up along the buses to escort the men. It’s really sweet, and the men, at that point in time, you would have thought it was first thing in the morning. They’re just like young men again. Giddy, talking and laughing and ready to relive all those stories from the war.”

MU Veterans Center Associate Jason Grubbs, who served in the military from 2005 to 2011, said he will attend the Homecoming Celebration in September. He said he looks forward to honoring the veterans who made sacrifices for the country.

“I believe World War II veterans are national treasures,” he said. “Some of the things that they had to do and put up with – you read about it and it doesn’t do it justice. Seeing how they are emotionally affected by seeing this memorial almost gives you a brief glimpse on the impact it had on their lives.”

The Homecoming will take place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Columbia, located at 3301 Lemone Industrial Drive.

Bassett said he was enthralled to see more than 100 people standing in the rain to welcome him home from the Honor Flight trip.

“The welcome home party is very important,” he said. “It kind of put the frosting on the cake, so to speak. These people could have said, ‘You know, it’s raining outside, I don’t think I want to go out there in that mess and the rain.’ But they made the effort.”

At first, Bassett said, he was reluctant to go on an Honor Flight because he feared he wasn’t ready to bring back memories he tried to forget.

“It’s an experience where either you’re ready, or you go at the wrong time,” he said, “It’s a very emotional experience.”

After his trip, Bassett said, Honor Flight helps veterans open up about their war experiences. He said veterans rarely share war stories with their families because those who never served could not imagine what they went through.

At the National World War II memorial, Bassett said a veteran in his Honor Flight group confessed to feeling guilty that he survived while a friend of his did not.

“I turned to him and said, ‘What do you feel guilty about?’” Bassett said. “He told me he was a survivor of the landing at Normandy where we lost an awful lot of guys all at once. He said, ‘We landed on the beach in the sandy area and were crawling on our bellies and we could hear bullets whistling over our heads. I turned around to tell my friend something and he didn’t move.’”

After a day of monument viewing and reflection, the veterans and guardians take a bus ride back to the airport in Baltimore, Md. and then fly to St. Louis, Mo. On the returning flight, Becker said, guardians lead the veterans in mail call. The veterans receive letters from family members and writers they might have never met.

“We take over the speaker of the airplane and we say the soldier’s last name. Just like they would have when they were in the service,” Becker said. “The last flight, one gentleman just cried and cried on the plane – some of these letters are very emotional. He said, ‘I have to explain why I’m crying. I’m crying because I was an orphan in World War II, and whenever everybody else got mail, I never got anything.’ He’s in his 90s – that was very touching.”

Grubbs said the Honor Flight program provides an amazing opportunity to veterans and looks forward to showing his support next month.

“I don’t like to throw the word brilliant around, but I would use brilliant,” he said. “Most of them have never even seen the memorial that is there for them. Being able to see something dedicated to their service, I think that’s awesome, absolutely amazing.”

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