Sixty-nine Kentucky war veterans are traveling from Lexington to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Sept. 22, as part of this year’s Honor Flight. Veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War are set to participate in a one-day tour of memorials that are dedicated to their service and sacrifices.
Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives are paying all the expenses to send 34 veterans and their guardians on the trip.
“It’s an honor for us to sponsor these heroes from Kentucky,” said Joe Settles, manager of member services. “This trip is a small thanks for their big sacrifices. We owe them so much for the freedoms we enjoy.”
This is the eighth year Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives have sponsored Honor Flight. The 2018 contingent includes 97-year old Henry Howard Smith of Flemingsburg and 96-year-old Frank Zupan of Frenchburg. They are among the oldest WWII veterans living in Kentucky.
Around 6,400 WWII veterans, most in their late 80s and 90s, call Kentucky home. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 362 WWII vets die each day, which makes every Honor Flight a race against time.
“We want our veterans to have the opportunity to see the memorials erected in their honor, while they still can,” said Jeff Hohman, a member of the Honor Flight Kentucky board of directors. Honor Flight Kentucky is actively recruiting Eastern Kentucky veterans, especially those with birthdays in the 1920s, to make future trips.
Among those participating in this year’s Honor Flight:
• Frank Zupan, an Army machine gunner who earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals for acts of heroism while fighting in the Pacific Theater during WWII.
• Vietnam combat medic Jerry Workman, of Lexington, who cared for wounded soldiers during high-casualty events such as 1968’s Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hamburger Hill in 1969.
• National Guard veteran Roy Bowling, who is best known for his record-setting winning streak as the girls’ basketball coach at Laurel County High School.
• Nicholasville’s Joyce Reeves, a Korean War veteran who is the lone female veteran in this group.
• John Garry Garcia of Lexington, a veteran of three wars —WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The veterans will fly from Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., where they will board buses for a full day of honors and sightseeing.
Activities include viewing the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Honor Flight representatives will participate in a wreath-laying service at the tomb.
Capping off the day is a homecoming celebration to further honor the veterans. It is a highlight of the day, say some former Honor Flight participants.
“They treated us like kings,” said Albert Antle, of Jamestown, a WWII veteran who experienced no fanfare when he returned home from that war.
“That place just roared,” Korean War veteran Alfred Ahrens, of Paris, recalled about the enthusiastic greeting Honor Flight participants received. “It was the best welcome home I ever had.”
Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives are inviting families, friends and supporters to gather at Blue Grass Airport by 8 p.m. on Sept. 22 to greet the veterans when their flight arrives from Washington. There will be additional parking available at the airport to accommodate the crowd.
“Come help us make this one of the best days ever for these American heroes,” urged Settles, who will be taking the Honor Flight trip as a guardian for one of the participating veterans.