Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2003

Program helps soldiers fly home

December 13, 2003

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— Bob Harris remembers the days of World War II when his parents went out of their way to help soldiers who were coming home.

Now it's his turn to help them get home, but it a much different way.

The Hutchinson businessman has decided to donate 72,000 frequent flier miles to a program designed to help servicemen and women fly home from three American airports.

"I remember my parents picking up hitchhiking soldiers during World War II," Harris said. "They were in uniform, with their backpacks, heading home. We'd pick them up and bring them home for dinner."

"You wouldn't do that anymore, but this is another way to help those guys and gals out. I'm all for it."

The program, "Operation Hero Miles," was started five weeks ago by Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-Maryland, as a stopgap while federal funding to pay for soldiers to get home is tied up in red tape.

So far, the program has accumulated more than 169 million miles from seven participating airlines and travelers at its Web site -- more than enough for more than 6,700 round trips.

The flights connect soldiers from three American "ports of entry" -- Baltimore/Washington International, Dallas/Fort Worth and Atlanta -- to their homes for free.

Ruppersberger conceived the program after a meeting with servicemen in his district.

Soldiers, when asked what they most needed, said they wanted help getting home without denting their pocketbooks.

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