25 more veterans needed for Honor Flight

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 13, 2010

­At least 25 more World War II and Korean Veterans are needed to make this year’s Covington Regional Honor Flight, board president Tonitta Sauls said Friday.

Currently, 25 have signed up, but more are definitely needed, she said.

Sauls said this year the board was able to charter a flight through CSI Aviation Services, which will allow for the trip to depart from the South Alabama Regional Airport in Sanford, before flying to Washington, D.C. on May 15.

“Since we are chartering the plane, a deadline won’t be as significant as if we were going to fly commercial,” Sauls said. “But we need to really encourage the veterans to get their applications in, so we can better plan for the event.”

Board member Gary Petty said the event was originally opened up to World War II veterans; however, the board felt the majority of veterans took advantage of that the last honor flight.

“Now, we feel that we can get the Korean War veterans so they have the same opportunity,” he said.

Petty said organizers are expecting to take about 50 veterans; however, there is also a need for veteran guardians, Sauls said.

Guardians must pay their own way and personally escort the veterans onto the aircraft, accompany them to the memorials and throughout the day and then escort them back during the return flight.

Cost per guardian is $550.

Last year, Lester O’Neal and his wife, Beverly, elected to serve as guardians for three veterans.

“I escorted two veterans from Troy, and my wife escorted one from Andalusia,” O’Neal said.

The trip was something O’Neal said the veterans enjoyed very much.

“Most of the veterans were elated and enjoyed going,” he said. “A lot are not in the best of health and some are in wheel-chairs, but they couldn’t thank you enough. Most of them have never been to Washington, D.C., and had never seen the World War II monument. It’s really a trip of a lifetime for them because most are in their 80s and 90s.”

ONeal, said the trip really touched his heart when he saw complete strangers walk up to the veterans and tell them how much they appreciated their service.

“It did me good to see the veterans get recognition,” he said. “I encourage veterans to go, and I encourage citizens to go as a guardian. I’m going again.”

Petty also attended as a guardian.

“It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life,” he said. “I guarantee you that every veteran who went on our last trip would jump at the chance to go again.”

Any veteran interested in applying for a seat on the flight should contact Tonitta Sauls at 334-504-1450 or Pam Steele at 334-428-2619. Those interested in being a guardian should call either Sauls or Steele.