The Honor Flight Network
The Honor Flight Network program was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and Retired Air Force Captain. Earl wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for the past 27 years. After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Earl was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. In May of 2004, the World War II Memorial was finally completed and dedicated in Washington, D.C. and quickly became the topic of discussion among his World War II veteran patients.
Earl repeatedly asked these veterans if they would ever travel out to visit THEIR memorial. Most felt that eventually, somehow, they would make it to D.C., perhaps with a family member or friend.
As summer turned to fall and then winter, these same veterans returned to the clinic for their follow-up visits. Earl asked if they accomplished their dream of visiting the World War II Memorial. By now, for most of the veterans he asked, reality had settled in; it was clear to most that it simply wasn’t financially or physically possible for them to make the journey. Most of these senior heroes were in their 80s and lacked the physical and mental wherewithal to complete a trip on their own. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time to complete the three- to four-day trip to the nation’s capital.
Earl could tell that the majority of the veterans had given up all hope of ever visiting the memorial that was specifically created to honor their services as well as the services of their fellow comrades who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. That’s when Earl decided that there had to be a way to get these heroes to D.C. to see their memorial.
In addition to being a physician assistant, Earl was also a private pilot and a member of one of our nation’s largest and best aero clubs located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. And things started coming together.
In December of 2004, Earl asked one of his World War II veteran patients if it would be all right if Earl personally flew him out to D.C., free of charge, to visit his memorial. Mr. Loy broke down and cried. He told Earl that at his age he would probably never get to see his memorial otherwise, and graciously accepted the offer.
Earl posed the same question to a second World War II veteran a week later. He too cried and enthusiastically accepted the trip. It didn’t take long for Earl to realize that there were many veterans who would have the same reaction. So he started asking for help from other pilots to make these dreams a reality. In January of 2005, Earl addressed about 150 members of the aero club during a safety meeting, outlining a volunteer program to fly veterans to their memorial. There were two major stipulations to his request. The first was that the veterans pay nothing. The entire aircraft rental ($600 to $1200 for the day) would have to be paid solely by the pilots. The second was that the pilots personally escort the veterans around D.C. for the entire day.
After Earl spoke, eleven pilots who had never met his patients stepped up to volunteer. And Honor Flight was born.
Badger Honor Flight
The first Honor Flight hubs established in Wisconsin were the Freedom Honor Flight operating out of LaCrosse, and the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight in the Milwaukee region.
After participating as guardians in other Honor Flights and hearing how much the flights meant to the veterans who took them, a group of local volunteers decided to form an Honor Flight hub in Madison, WI. This hub would primarily serve veterans in Columbia, Dane, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Lafayette, Richland, Sauk, and parts of Dodge Counties.
Volunteers began meeting in early 2009, and named the hub the “Badger Honor Flight.” A Board of Directors was established, and in July 2009, the necessary paperwork was completed to be officially recognized as a hub in the national Honor Flight Network.
The first Badger Honor Flight took place in April of 2010. In just over 2 years we have been honored to fly over 500 veterans to Washington D.C. for what many characterize as “the trip of a lifetime”.