Archive for Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Kansas Honor Flight hub plans first 2012 flight

July 18, 2012


— World War II veteran Don Revert says his first visit to Washington, D.C., would be a lot more fun if he weren't so old.

The 99-year-old Wichita resident is scheduled to make the three-day trip July 31 on an Honor Flight out of Mid-Continent Airport after two previous flights organized by a Great Bend group fizzled out.

The Wichita Eagle reports Revert would be the oldest veteran to fly out of Kansas as part of an Honor Flight, which is a national grass-roots effort that began sending World War II veterans to Washington in 2005.

"If I was younger, I'd enjoy it a lot more," he said.

The organization that operates the state's newest hub, Kansas Honor Flight, is based in Hutchinson and began operating in May, shortly after the state's main hub for the flights, Central Prairie Honor Flights in Great Bend, was kicked out of the national organization because of management issues.

One of those issues occurred when a veteran fell out of a top bunk during an Honor Flight last year and broke a rib.

Central Prairie, which had conducted 17 flights carrying more than 1,100 WWII veterans to Washington over a 2 1/2-year period, had to cancel all of its flights in 2012 because of a shortage of money.

Revert had been scheduled to go on two of the canceled flights.

"Disappointed? Sure," he said. "I'm not getting any younger."

Mike VanCampen, president of Kansas Honor Flight, said Revert will be one of three veterans who will fly out of Wichita, while 25 others will fly out of Kansas City, Mo. Southwest Airlines provided free tickets for 25 veterans, but the airline won't have flights out of Wichita until next year.

"That's about a $10,000 contribution," VanCampen. "That's significant."

He said Southwest's generosity toward the program is probably a one-time deal, because the airline often provides free flights for new hubs.

It costs about $650 to send one veteran on the trip, while their guardians have to pay their own way.

Revert's daughter, Mary Lou Early, said she was worried her dad would never be on one of the flights.

That was until two weeks ago, when VanCampen called her to say there was a spot on the July 31 flight if her father wanted to go.

Early, who lives in Mount Vernon, Mo., is a retired Army nurse. She will be Revert's "guardian" on the trip to help him get around.

"I think I can handle him," she said.

Fundraising for the trips took a hit after Central Prairie's problems. A few months after it was booted by the national headquarters, Central Prairie's website said it still planned to do Honor Flights despite contrary statements by its board president. The website now sends visitors to Kansas Honor Flight's site.

VanCampen said it costs about $20,000 to take 30 veterans on a flight to Washington.

"We have to start from ground zero," said Herb Duncan, who led volunteer efforts in Wichita to raise funds for Honor Flight. "The money bucket is gone, and we're trying to refill it."

Duncan said he would like to see flights with 100 vets at a time, which Central Prairie had sometimes provided, but VanCampen said he will keep the number at 28 to 30.

VanCampen said the smaller number is less stressful on the aging vets. For the July flight, 21 of the 28 vets will require wheelchairs at least some of the time.

"Plus, we have to wait around to get more money if we're taking 100," VanCampen said. "These veterans can't wait."

He said a September flight is in the works, but more fundraising is needed to get that one off the ground.


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