Honor Flights not only allow area veterans the chance to visit Washington D.C. memorials in honor of fallen colleagues and other fellow veterans, but aim to give them the respect for their service many have missed out on when returning home from war.
The Honor Flight takes 100 veterans and between 50 and 60 guardians from the North Central West Virginia Airport to Washington, D.C., where veterans and guardians will visit the war memorials.
Clarksburg’s Huntington Honor Flight Coordinator Tanya Cayton has organized the region’s Honor Flight since she took the reigns from the Fairmont Rotary Club two years ago.
Cayton said when she first approached members of the law firm about the flight, they were all supportive and have allowed her time to raise funds and organize it. Several attorneys and staff members serve as guardians on the flight, as well.
Guardians each help two veterans, which can involve wheelchair assistance, getting them to and from the buses and listening to them as they open up about their experiences, which is the most important part, Cayton said.
Upon returning to the plane, Mail Call will take place. Mail Call is when all veterans receive a package of letters written by children, organizations, and community members thanking veterans for their service.
Cayton said this is very emotional for the veterans, as they waited months to receive letters from friends and family members while serving overseas, and some veterans did not receive any mail at all.
She said the most emotional experiences of the participants on the honor flights is arriving in Washington, D.C., getting to the memorials, receiving mail call, and coming home.
“It is encouraged that the local community come out to the airport and welcome our local veterans home upon their arrival,” Cayton said.
She added that many veterans were not greeted positively when they returned from war.
Currently, the airplane will hold another 40-60 veterans, who can sign up until the plane is full.
WWII veterans are given first priority to take the flight, followed by Korean veterans, terminally ill veterans and then Vietnam veterans. Cayton said six WWII veterans already have signed up. Medical staff will also be on the flight. Two Lewis Countians will be on the flight, as well. Dr. Robert Snuffer and Jamie Breen will experience their first honor flight. Breen said, “It’s our honor to be going for both of us.”
The Honor Flight came to areas of WV in 2013, and has covered the state, and parts of Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Seven flights have taken almost 700 veterans from Clarksburg
and Huntington to Washington, D.C. This will make the fourth flight from Clarksburg.
The day begins at 5:30 a.m. at the airport. After breakfast, the flight heads to Washington, D.C. and then veterans are taken by bus to monuments and museums.
Participants will board the plane at 8 p.m. and head home after mail call.
“Our firm is proud of the military service and sacrifices of our veterans,” said Jim Riley, the president of McNeer, Highland, McMunn, and Varner, L.C. “The sponsoring of the Honor Flight is a small thank-you to all veterans who have proudly served our country, and we hope you can join us at the airport upon their arrival home. It is truly a great experience.”
Funding the flight is not an easy task, and depends exclusively on support from donors. The flight costs $62,000.
“We can only take this flight because of the donors,” Cayton said.
Last year’s donors included: North Central West Virginia Airport, Tracy Miller from Mid Atlantic Aerospace Complex, Will and Mary Mutschelknaus, Harrison County Rotary Club, First Energy, Frontier Communications, McNeer, Highland, McMunn, and Varner, L.C., and several other regional businesses. Cayton said many of these are continuing their support again his year.
“Unfortunately, we will need to raise an additional $12,000 in funds this year, due to an increase in the airplane rental from the airline, but I am willing to take on the task for our veterans,” Cayton said.
“Also, I have a great group of volunteers, and with Ron Watson, Ron Cochran, Shawn Long and Rick Rock from the airport helping in the process. I have no doubt we will meet our goal,” she added.
If anyone wants to donate or wants an application, contact Cayton at 304-626-1100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks should be made to Huntington Honor Flight. The memo should read Clarksburg Flight. They can be mailed to 400 W. Main St. Clarksburg, WV 26301.