Honor Flight builds camaraderie among veterans


Veterans, their guardians and volunteers pause at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. during their June 23 Honor Flight. They were joined by U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, far right, and his wife Katie.

Courtesy of Space Coast Honor Flight

When you think of reunions, high school, job retirement or even a family reunions come to mind. With the Space Coast Honor Flight, its reunion has a different connotation.

Usually, the reunion is 21 to 30 days after an Honor Flight. After that, it’s an ongoing relationship.

Space Coast Honor Flight is a rather unique organization. It is dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifices of military veterans.

Their dedicated mission is to take a group of qualified military veterans on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Washington, D.C. to visit most of the war memorials representing the wars in which these veterans served. The veterans are each accompanied by a guardian.

Although it is referred to as a reunion of the trip 30 days earlier, Honor Flight is really a reunion of each individual soldier, sailor or airman with events and a war that happened 30 or 50 years ago.

It all starts with an orientation at Wickham Park Senior Center in Melbourne two weeks before the trip to Washington D.C. Then, on the day of the trip, this group of 25 and their guardians gather at 1:30 a.m. for the beginning of a long and eventful day.

The group of veterans and their guardians leave on a bus escorted by motorcyclists and police for the trip to Orlando International Airport for the flight to Washington, D.C. The trip ends very late that same night when the group returns to the Wickham Park Senior Center.

Then, there’s the reunion meeting. In this case, that was July 1, when the veterans could share with friends, family, Honor Flight board members, volunteers and fellow veterans what the trip meant to them.

Floyd (Mac) McCarty, an 86-year-old Melbourne resident, served as a medic in a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit in Korea on two tours.  He liked visiting the Korean Memorial.

“I really was impressed and touched by the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers,” he said.

Several of the veterans mentioned this ceremony as one of their favorite events.  Michelle Vidal, a registered

nurse, was Floyd’s guardian. She was unable to attend the reunion.

Eugene (Geno) Johnson, a well-known community military volunteer and a membership of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., also spoke about the tomb ceremony “that it takes place 24 hours a day, every day, in all kinds of weather.

Johnson and his wife Ionia are the parents of Reginald E. Johnson, who died in an accident at the United States Military Academy just 20 days before his graduation from West Point in 1980.  A scholarship fund was established and more than $5 million has been awarded to approximately 1,600 students during the past 36 years.

Reginald E. Johnson was a graduate of DeLaura Middle School and Satellite High School.  Eugene Johnson’s trip escort was Torrence Smith. Smith served for more than 10 years in the Army.

Joe Burke, a Navy veteran from Vero Beach, was most impressed by the World War II Memorial and the visit to Arlington National Cemetery.  He was escorted by Tom Spellacy, whose son was a member of The Old Ceremonial Guard Detail.

Leonard “Len” Coppold, who now volunteers with Honor Flight, served with The Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II and fought in the Battle of Britain.  He moved to the United States in 1951.

Bill Breyer of Indian Harbour Beach went on the trip in 2015 and now volunteers whenever he can. He served in the 8th Infantry Division in Europe from 1964 to 1966 and during the Cold War.

Listening to the veterans give their thoughts on what they had seen during their trip and the recollections of wars and conflicts was like walking into a military history museum.

Some of the veterans said the trip was “way above my expectations.”

“I got to say goodbye to my buddies,” one said. Others mentioned that it was “terrific to be there during Memorial Day weekend.”

Approximately 1,275 veterans have gone on Honor Flight trips since 2010.  On this particular trip, six were older than 90 and the youngest was 68.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Bill Welser is president of the Space Coast Honor Flight.

During the recent reunion, Tim and Suzanne Olson, both of whom have been active participants for at least the past eight years, retired from active leadership roles in the organization. The Honor Flight board of directors presented them with a plaque.

The veterans meet for monthly lunch gatherings at 11:15 a.m. at various restaurants on the first Tuesday and Thursday and the third Tuesday and Thursday of each month.  Call 888-750-2522 for more information.

The next Honor Flight is Aug. 18, with the orientation scheduled for Aug. 5. The reunion will be Sept. 9.

Space Coast Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization. It depends on donations and fundraisers. A major fundraiser will be Sept. 8 at The American Muscle Car Museum at 3500 Sarno Road in Melbourne. Tickets are $200 for VIP and a private tour at 5 p.m. General admission tickets will be $100 for a gathering at 6:30 p.m.

For more information on Space Coast Honor Flight, go to spacecoasthonorflight.org or call 888-750-2522.