110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Nov 9, 2012 - 11:18:59am
The mission of Volusia Honor Air was to honor surviving members of the Greatest Generation — the men and women who served their country during World War II.
Between May 2008 and September 2012, that mission was accomplished. Volusia Honor Air escorted 1,003 World War II veterans on free trips to the nation's capital, giving them first-class service and a chance to see the National World War II Memorial built in their honor.
The veterans departed Daytona Beach International Airport with fanfare, and landed in Washington, D.C., to more appreciation.
They visited the World War II memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, Va., and other sites. They lunched on Capitol Hill with U.S. Rep. John Mica and other top government officials. They and their attentive escorts put in a 15-hour day.
It was the first time many of the veterans, now in their late 80s or their 90s, received significant thanks and appreciation for their wartime service.
Volusia Honor Air was the brainchild of DeLandite Bill Mancinik, who hatched the idea at the DeLand Breakfast Rotary Club back in 2007. The idea spread to the noontime DeLand Rotary Club and the Downtown DeLand Rotary Club. Similar programs operate across the country.
"It grew so incredibly, wonderfully," Volusia Honor Air member and chairwoman of Flight 4 Bernadette Britz-Parker told the Volusia County Council Nov. 1.
Now, Volusia Honor Air has reached all the veterans it could. The final flight was in September.
Honor Air engaged in a race with time, as many of the veterans were becoming unable to travel. Many made the trip in wheelchairs, and some were on oxygen.
Britz-Parker told about one veteran, an amputee, whose aide called her after the flight. The aide had erroneously thrown out the medallion the veteran received as a souvenir of Honor Air Flight 10. Now at a hospice facility, the veteran wanted to be buried with that coin. It was replaced.
Mike White of the Volusia County Veterans Services office, Sheriff Ben Johnson and Capt. David Brannon of the Sheriff's Office, along with Rotarian Ray Heffington and others involved in Volusia Honor Air, all were there at the County Council meeting.
So was U.S. Rep. John Mica, who assisted with arrangements in Washington, D.C., for the Honor Air flights.
The Honor Air crew thanked all of the program's donors and sponsors. More than $800,000 in donations made the 10 flights possible.
Of that, $70,000 came from members of Honor Air themselves.
Property Appraiser Morgan Gilreath, who invented a "mail call," in which veterans received letters of love and thanks from family members and others to read on the flight home, was unable to attend the closing ceremonies.
Honor Air thanked the County Council for their support, and the council returned thanks, for a job well done.
A tearful Council Member Josh Wagner said the discussion brought to mind his two grandfathers who served during World War II, one who died when Wagner was a baby.
All the men and women who served are true heroes, but on the days of the Honor Air flights, "You were the heroes," Council Member Andy Kelly told the crew.
See photos from the flights at Volusia Honor Air.
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