HELP HONOR VETERANS
Kansas Honor Flight is based in Hutchinson. The nonprofit organization has no paid staff. Donations, including the cost of serving as a guardian on a flight, are tax-deductible.
Donations may be made to Kansas Honor Flight and mailed to Kansas Honor Flight, P.O. Box 2371, Hutchinson, KS 67504.
Learn more or donate online at www.kansashonorflight.org.
Mike VanCampen doesn’t know how many World War II veterans are living in Kansas, but he continues to hear from them. As president of the Kansas Honor Flight program, VanCampen routinely schedules expense-paid trips so that veterans can see their war memorials in Washington, D.C.
More often these days, the Honor Flight honorees are veterans of the next great conflict the United States was involved in, the Korean War. Toward the end of October 2014, John W. Jaco Sr. from Great Bend joined the first Kansas Honor Flight that carried only Korean War veterans and their accompanying guardians and guides.
“We still give priority to the World War II guys,” VanCampen said. Two 101-year-old veterans made the trip last year, and a 96-year-old veteran from the second World War hopes to join the next Honor Flight in April. But the nonprofit organization has begun calling Korean War veterans who are on its waiting list. Eventually, Vietnam War veterans will also be honored, he said.
Each veteran honored pays nothing for a three-day trip. He must be accompanied by a guardian, who can be a relative but cannot be the veteran’s spouse, according to the National Honor Flight rules. VanCampen explains that the guardian’s role can be physically demanding – whether it’s pushing a wheelchair or carrying luggage. “The guardians come home pooped,” he said. “The veterans come back feeling 10 years younger.” The guardians pay for their trip but it is “at cost,” which has been running about $700 for travel, lodging and meals.
Three guides from the Honor Flight organization also join each trip, and at least one doctor or nurse is in every group, VanCampen said.
When John W. Jaco took his flight, his guardian was his son, J.W. Jaco Jr. Both said the reception the veterans received at every stop of the trip made them feel proud to be Americans.
It started when they arrived at the Wichita airport. “The airport erupted in applause, from people thanking them for their service,” J.W. said. “It was moving, to say the least.” There were more ovations at Chicago and Baltimore airports, he said.
“The Honor Flight is an amazing program,” J.W. Jaco continued. “Some (of the veterans) had never been to Washington, D.C., before.”
The first and third days of the trip are mostly devoted to travel, but on Day Two the veterans visit as many sites as the can — especially the Mall with its many memorials, and Arlington National Cemetery. Whenever possible, the Kansas Honor Flight group attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. During the October trip, four veterans, representing four branches of service, had the honor of laying a wreath.
John W. Jaco, representing the Air Force, along with three other Kansas veterans, all received that honor.
“It was incredible,” the senior Jaco said of his Honor Flight. “I would encourage anybody who qualifies to take the trip.”