Since 2005, Honor Flight Network, have flown, driven and taken veterans by any means necessary on a trip.
The trip, which can be as short as a day, allows the veterans to feel like heroes, and see some sights that are there to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice that so many have paid.
The organization has 128 regional hubs. For area residents, the closest hub is in Pittsburgh, and the regional organizers would love to see more Oil Region veterans use this opportunity to receive the honor, recognition and thanks that they deserve.
Since 2005, Honor Flight hubs across the country have taken more than 245,000 veterans to see the war memorials in Washington, D.C.
Ron Schall is on the Board of Directors for Honor Flight Pittsburgh. Schall told The Herald that his organization has had eight successful trips taking veterans from Western Pennsylvania to the memorials, with more on the way.
Schall called the day of the trip “long and emotional” but said witnessing something like a veteran see the Vietnam Memorial Wall for the first time is “pretty special” and makes the long hours and late nights well worth it.
“Everything we do is to honor the veterans,” he said. The most recent trip, which was on Oct. 2, saw three coach buses full of veterans, guardians and other volunteers make the trek to the nation’s capitol.
One veteran on that trip was Rex C Huber, a veteran from north of Pittsburgh, in Lawrence County, who served for four years in the 1970s.
In 1971 Huber received his draft notice, and left the steel mill to fight for his country. After being drafted, Huber went to see what could be done. He remembers talking to a Navy man who said that he could either serve in the Army for two years, or come and be in the Navy for four.
It was an easy choice for Huber, who was discharged four years later as a GMG second class, after serving on the USS Midway for three years and two months.
The last year and half of that service was spent on the Midway at home port in Japan.
“They made a big stink when we arrived, and that didn’t really stop,” said Huber.
After returning home in 1975, Huber went back to work at the steel mill, where he had worked before serving his country.
“I settled in, bought a car and went down to the plant and asked for my job back,” he said.
Unlike the men who served their countries in the many wars that the USA has fought, Huber said that when he came back from Vietnam, there wasn’t a big celebration for him. He said the nation really turned their back on the Vietnam veterans.
Huber has family on the East Coast, and has been able to go to some of the war memorials himself. It wasn’t until this past October that Huber was able to go to the memorials with a group of other veterans. He was a part of the Pittsburgh chapter of Honor Flight Network Mission Eight.
The mission took three coach buses full of veterans to Washington for the day to see memorials and receive the recognition that they deserved. Other regional hubs may also have been visiting that weekend, and the directors are always in touch seeing if they can’t have the groups meet each other and have some camaraderie.
Not to ruin the surprises that the veterans can expect on the trip, Honor Flight does not just take veterans from point A to point B. They also make sure that the public is able to show how much these veterans’ service means to them.
For someone like Huber, the support was something unexpected. “I don’t remember the honor or thank you coming home,” Huber said. “But seeing all those people come out to appreciate what we did was a real tear-jerker.”
It was on this trip that Huber for the first time was able to see how much people cared about him and his service to the country, and finally receive some recognition.
Huber said that if he were to tell another veteran about his experiences with Honor Flight, he would say, “They get to experience the honor they deserve. I didn’t know I deserved it until I got it.”
Honor Flight Pittsburgh will be holding fundraisers such as their Top Golf Day and raffles, but for those not near Pittsburgh Schall said the best way to get involved and help is through their website at honorflightpittsburgh.org.
The organization is currently looking for a corporate sponsor to help with some of the cost of travel. In addition to seeking monetary support, Schall said that the group is always in need of volunteers. “We couldn’t do it without our volunteers,” he said.
Veterans can also find applications on the site. There are currently two trips planned for 2022, with the next opportunity in April. The trips leave at 5:30 a.m. and arrives back in Pittsburgh that night at 10:30. The veterans get the opportunity to see the war memorials, visit the National Cemetery and also eat a good meal at Mission BBQ.
With the trips planned, Schall said that the next step is exposure, so that every veteran knows that this opportunity exists. “Any exposure counts, and every bit helps,” he said.
Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.