POINT PLEASANT — Americans celebrate holidays such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day to thank the service men and women who have fought and sacrificed for the country.
This past May, one local veteran had the chance to join several others from across the tri-state in an Honor Flight created as a “thank you” to the nation’s veterans.
The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization which provides veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam with a free day trip to Washington, D.C., to tour monuments such as the World War II and Korean memorials, and Arlington National Cemetery. Russell V. Holland, 85, of Point Pleasant, had the chance to go on this year’s trip. He said the trip to the nation’s capital was worthwhile.
“There’s no cost to the veterans and each one of us had a guardian that took care of us. I was able to walk, but we had some in wheelchairs that couldn’t do the walking. It was really an honor to go on this flight,” Holland said. “There were three busloads of us, 80-some veterans. When we got there, they had a band there for us and people lined up to welcome us. We had a police escort all day long. We got to visit Arlington Cemetery, the WWII Monument, and the Korean Monument and went to the Vietnam Wall and all the different places sightseeing. Probably the one that would raise the hair on the back of your neck was when we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched the changing of the guard.”
Holland said he learned about the flight and applied for the trip. Almost two weeks later, he was accepted to go on the flight and left for Tri-State Airport in Huntington on May 23. Holland said the trip was a one-day event where he left Point Pleasant at 4 a.m. and came back to town around 11 p.m. that night. He said even though the day was long, it was a great experience.
“We walked probably about six miles that day,” Holland “I’ve been there before, but I never got to visit the monuments and stuff like that. This was the first time I got to see them all. It’s just a great experience to get to talk to some of the guys and where we’ve been. My favorite part was getting to see Arlington National Cemetery and the changing of the guards, and the Air Force Memorial meant something to me because that’s the branch I was in.”
The Honor Flight Network has several “hubs” across the country where veterans from their regions can apply for the trip. Holland’s trip was through the hub Honor Flight Huntington, which provides the trip to veterans from Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Jane Julian, hub director, said the flight prioritizes the trip for WWII veterans, or senior veterans, followed by Korean veterans and Vietnam veterans.
To be eligible for the flight, applicants must have served at some point between the conflict dates of the three wars; however, it is not a requirement for the veterans to have served overseas during these times. Julian also said the organization hopes to eventually open the flights up to veterans who served in more recent conflicts, but feels it is best to give these senior veterans top priority for the experience. Holland said it was fascinating to get to meet other veterans and hear about their time in the military.
“You got to hear a lot of war stories. That was really great and you got to meet people from West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. It was very, very rewarding.” Holland said.
Holland was a staff sargent in the U.S. Air Force from 1950-54. He was stationed in Chuncheon, South Korea, and worked in radio communications. Holland said being overseas was something he is glad he did and will never forget.
“I did not see any combat, but it’s a different world over there. We slept in tents for a year and we just had an oil heater in the tent, but it would get down to 15-20 degrees below zero. We stayed in that one place. We weren’t allowed to go out in the town,” Holland said. “With my service years, it was a good experience, but I wouldn’t want to go through it all again, but I’m proud to say that I was able to serve my country, and back at 18 years old again, I would make the same decision.”
Holland said he would like to go on another trip, and is grateful for the people who organized and helped with the Honor Flight, including his own guide, known as a guardian, Harry Fletcher, who was also a retired U.S. Air Force veteran.
“I would do it again, but there are a lot of other soldiers who deserve to go,” Holland said. “I’d recommend it to anyone who has the chance to go. They take good care of you. They have medical people there with us all day in case anyone needs medical attention. If anyone ever has the chance to take it, it is a very worthwhile day.”
Anyone interested in more information about the Honor Flight can contact Julian at 740-451-0615 or visit www.honorflighthuntington.org.