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May 26, 2013

Flying in honor of those who served

— Approximately 900 World War II veterans die every day. Most are in their 80s and 90s, and many don’t have the means to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Gordon Haggett wants to change that.

Haggett is a board member of the Honor Flight Dallas/Fort Worth (HFDFW), an organization that covers the expenses for many WWII veterans and veterans of other wars to view national memorials dedicated to their efforts.

Honor Flight was established in 2004 to give veterans an all expense paid trip to their monument. The HFDFW was established in 2008 and has sent more than 300 veterans to date.

The Honor Flight is funded by donations. It costs $1,000 to sent one veteran to Washington and back.

Haggett, who has helped accompany the veterans during their time in Washington, said each trip is a memorable one.

“To walk along side and see the reaction of a veteran is priceless,” he said.

Since many of the veterans have special needs, the program has a formally-trained medical staff that travels with the veterans to ensure their safety.

“Safety is number one,” he said. “The staff meets [the veterans] before the trip so they can get comfortable with them. We take this very seriously.”

Many of the staff, including Haggett, who served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, are veterans themselves. Haggett said the staff is extremely well-organized and works closely with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to make the process of boarding the flight as safe as possible.

“Our volunteers are the best; the best I’ve worked with,” he said. “They are selfless.”

For each flight, the Honor Flight organizes a going away for the veterans, with a crowd cheering them on as the board the flight to and from Washington, and veterans in uniform meeting them upon their arrival.

The first memorial the flight visits is the WWII memorial.

Haggett said the WWII vets are a different breed.

“They’re called the greatest generation for a reason,” he said. “These veterans are extremely humble. They all had a job to do.”

After visiting the other memorials, four of the veterans are chosen to accompany soldiers who place the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“It is beyond description to watch these men laying the wreath,” he said, adding that it is a very humbling experience to watch the tears fall down the saluting veterans faces as “Taps” is played to honor the fallen.

The Honor Flight makes six trips per year — three in the spring and three in the fall — to accomodate the schedules of veterans and their families.

Haggett said the organization is always in need of donations of both time and money.

For those interested in the program and individuals who wish to sign up or donate, visit the organization online at www.honorflightdfw.org, or email Haggett at Gordonh@honorflightdfw.org.

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