OKEECHOBEE — Local veterans are seeking others interested in going on an Honor Flight.
“We need 80 veteran bodies to fill the flight, and we need 50 to get a charter bus from Okeechobee to the airport,” said Joe Mansfield of the group Dog Tags and Coffee.
At any time, a veteran who has never been on an Honor Flight is able to join in a group from another area if there is an available seat, but Mansfield would like to see an entire flight filled with Okeechobee/Glades County veterans.
The mission of the Southeast Florida Honor Flight Network is to fly “local WWII, Korean & Vietnam War veterans to Washington, DC to visit the memorials built to honor their service and sacrifices.,” states the website.
Southeast Florida Honor Flights is a hub of the National Honor Flight Network and like all the other hubs, is “dedicated to honoring local veterans with a trip to Washington, DC to visit their memorials at absolutely no cost to the veteran. Formed in 2008, our hub, based in Stuart, FL, serves the following counties, utilizing Palm Beach International Airport: Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, Okeechobee, Glades and Palm Beach.”
It is an all-expense paid trip for the veteran. Each veteran is provided with an escort/helper, who is trained by the organization. These guardians pay their own way, and this ensures that 100% of all donations go to the mission.
In 2022, 12 WWII, 48 Korean War and 88 Vietnam War veterans took the trip.
The website goes on to explain the history of the Honor Flights. The organization was started by one man, Earl Morse, who was a retired Air Force captain. He worked in a veteran’s hospital and wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for 27 years. When he realized that the majority of the veterans who served our country would never be physically or financially able to go see the WWII monuments in Washington, D.C,, he decided he would try to get them there himself. In December 2004, Mr. Morse, who was a private pilot, asked two of his WWII veteran patients if they would like to fly with him, free of charge, to see the memorials. Both veterans accepted enthusiastically.
The following year, he recruited six more pilots to help him transport more veterans to visit the memorial, with the stipulation that all expenses would be paid by the pilots and that the pilots would personally escort the veterans around the city all day. Soon six planes flew 12 veterans to Washington, D.C. By the end of the year, 137 WWII veterans had been transported to see their memorial.
In 2006, they began using commercial flights exclusively and began partnering with other community leaders. Jeff Miller of Hendersonville, N.C., began hiring airlines and flying 30, 40, 50 at a time, said Mr. Abbott.
In February 2006, Mr. Morse and Mr. Miller met, combined their efforts and called themselves Honor Flight Network. Now, they have flown over 250,000 veterans to see the memorials, all completely free of charge. There is a waiting list, but due to their age, WWII veterans are given priority, he explained.
If you are interested in flying with your fellow Okeechobee veterans, please contact Mansfield through Dog Tags & Coffee which meets on the first Saturday of each month at 9am at the tax collector’s building in Buckhead Ridge. This is the first building west of the fire house.
Due to the Labor Day holiday, there will be no September meeting. The next meeting will be held on October 7. Okeechobee County’s new veteran services director Jeff Norwood will be attending the meeting.
Mansfield can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, address, phone number and email.