Del Kaufmann rarely flies commercial.  As Global Aviation’s Chief Pilot, he usually has no need to do so.   In spite of that, on May 16th Del found himself on a Southwest Airlines flight heading east.  His mission:  to escort his 87 year old father, Walter, a WWII veteran, to Washington D.C. as part of the Honor Flight program.

Walter Kaufmann was drafted when he was 18 years old.  As a B-17 crew member, he was stationed in England during the war, and remained in the European Theater until Germany was defeated.  From there, his crew geared up for the B-29 program and planned to head to the South Pacific.  He was 21 when the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Japan surrendered.  At that point Walter was able to put in for his discharge.

Like most veterans who served during WWII, Walter seldom spoke of his wartime experiences; however, when he returned to civilian life, aviation continued to play a big part in his life.  He flew out of the Hillsboro Airport as a private pilot and passed his love of airplanes on to his son.  He traveled extensively, but never made it to our nation’s capitol…until the Honor Flight.

Honor Flight was established in 2005, shortly after the dedication of the WWII memorial in Washington D.C.   At the time, Earl Morse, a physician assistant and Retired Air Force Captain, was working in a clinic in Springfield, Ohio for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  He noted that the memorial was a topic of interest among the WWII veterans who were his patients.  Many hoped to visit their memorial, but in time it became obvious that it simply wasn’t financially or physically feasible.

Morse was a pilot and a member of one of the nation’s largest aero clubs, which was located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.  He felt that it was important to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifices and transporting them to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials was a small gesture of gratitude.  Initially, Morse flew several patients there himself.  Based on the overwhelmingly positive outcome, it was clear that many veterans would embrace the opportunity to see the memorials that were standing in their honor.  There had to be a way to get these heroes to Washington, D.C.

In January 2005, Morse addressed 150 members of the aero club during a safety meeting.  Outlining a volunteer program to fly veterans to their memorials, Morse made two requests.  First, all expenses would be paid for each veteran; and second, pilots would escort veterans around D.C. for the entire day.      Upon the completion of his speech, eleven pilots stepped up to volunteer and Honor Flight was born.

Word quickly spread and the commercial airlines got involved.  In 2008, Southwest Airlines became the official commercial carrier for the program and continues to support the organization today.  Needless to say, that’s how the Kaufmanns reached Washington D.C.  In fact, there were a total of 27 veterans and 27 guardians on their flight; and, one of the vets was a 90 year old woman who had served in the Marine Corp.

“It was a trip of a lifetime,” states Del.  “My dad had never been to Washington, D.C. and it meant a lot to him.  During our 12 ½ hour tour of the monuments and memorials, people would come up to the veterans in our group to thank them for their service and sacrifices.  It was incredibly moving.”

Today, 127 hubs in 42 states make up the Honor Flight Network.  Over 100,000 WWII veterans have visited Washington as a result of this program.  Due to the advancing age of our heroes, and the projections that we are losing between 700-1000 daily, the program continues to work feverishly against time to enable as many WWII veterans as possible to make this trip.  And while focus remains on WWII veterans, the program plans to expand and pay tribute to those who served in Korea, Vietnam and the more current wars.

“What’s so amazing is that this organization is completely run by volunteers,” says Del.  “It’s a non-profit and 100% of every donation goes to the veterans.  People and businesses really step up to pitch in and make it a memorable experience for our heroes.  It’s remarkable.”

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