By Chuck Sarges
On September 12, 2023, four local Marine veterans, Chuck Sarges, Shane Wiley, Frank Glassford, and Jim Countryman, members of Marine Corps League 708, Brooksville, Florida, boarded Allegiant Flight 4910, bound for Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) Airport, marking the beginning of a long and memorable day provided free of charge for Veterans by “Honor Flight of West Central Florida.”
Having learned of the Honor Flight, these four Marine veterans made applications to be part of Flight 47 and were accepted. They attended an orientation meeting with 75 other veterans, including WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, Desert Storm, and Iraqi War veterans, on September 9th. We learned that upon landing at BWI, the veterans would be taken by three chartered buses to Arlington Cemetery to visit all the monuments. We also knew that each veteran on Flight Mission 47 would have a “Guardian” assigned to them, whose sole purpose is to assist, help, and be with the veteran from the beginning of the day to the conclusion. Each “Guardian” donates $500.00 to this non-taxable organization for the privilege of accompanying one veteran. Honor Flight provided all three meals during the day, including beverages, a shirt, a hat, and a tote bag, free of charge.
It was a long day, beginning at 4:00 a.m. at St. Pete/Clearwater Airport and returning to St. Pete by 9:00 p.m. Between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., we watched the changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We visited Arlington Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, The World War II Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
The final and most surprising time of the day was when we deplaned at St. Pete and walked from the ramp to the outside doors between a row of hundreds and hundreds of flag-waving people and organizations shouting “Welcome home” and shaking our hands, greeting us with hugs and saying “Thank you for your service to our country!” It was a sight that we had never witnessed before; it was overwhelming!
Honor Flight of West Central Florida is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose 98 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to its mission. They have no paid employees; they are all volunteers. Each mission costs $81,000, and since 2010, they have flown 3,400 veterans to Washington, D.C.
The Honor Flight Network serves 44 states and has flown over 275,000 veterans to Washington, D.C., since 2005. Honor Flight of West Central Florida is one of the 124 hubs of the Network. Their organizational skills are outstanding. Please go to their Website to learn more: www.honorflightwcf.org