Phyllis McGuire | Raising up our heroes for Veterans Day with Honor Flight

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WILLIAMSTOWN — On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, we show support for and honor those who made sacrifices in their lives to serve in the military and protect our county.

We hold parades and ceremonies, fly flags in front of our homes, retail businesses offer discounts, and restaurants offer discounts and free meals to veterans on Veterans Day.

But throughout the year, the Honor Flight Network provides veterans with a free trip to Washington to visit the War Memorials built to honor them and their fallen comrades-in-arms.

A national nonprofit organization founded in 2005, Honor Flight Network now has 130 regional "hubs" that have transported 225,000 veterans to Washington.

Honor Flight does not receive any monetary support from the government, but is funded by donations from individuals, corporations and organizations.

Richard McCarthy, a resident of Adams who was brought up in Williamstown, became aware of the Honor Flight program when he was an officer of Williamstown American Legion Post 152 and received a letter asking if any of the veterans would be interested in taking part in the program.

"I passed it around at our monthly meeting, and a lot of our veterans were interested," McCarthy said when we spoke recently.

In May 2015, McCarthy was among 15 members of Post 152 and their chaperones boarding an Honor Flight on Southwest Airlines from Albany.

Chaperones pay their own expenses.

The veterans sported T-shirts that were given to them free of charge. "Thank a teacher if you can read this, Thank a veteran because you can read it in English" was emblazoned in red lettering on the gray T-shirts.

"It was the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe," McCarthy said. "There was a flyover when we were at the National Mall. At a ceremony there, we sat a few rows behind [retired Sen.] Bob Dole. Some of us got to meet Dole and Tuskegee Airmen."

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Honor Flight New England, located in New Hampshire, has transported 2,085 veterans to Washington since joining the Honor Flight Network in 2009.

"The oldest vet we took was 103, and we took the vet who served in World War II when he was age 14," said Joe Byron, founder/executive director of Honor Flight New England, in a phone interview. "We receive thank-you letters from the vets, saying it was one of the best days of their lives besides getting married and having children.

"It's a blessing every day we can do it!"

A friend of mine in New York, a Navy veteran who served in the Korean War, was excited to be on an Honor Flight from New York a couple of weeks ago.

"There were 65 of us," he told me. "None of us was related or even had met before, but it was like we had known each other forever."

In that vein, McCarthy said, "Veterans are only comfortable talking to other veterans about their experiences. Other people cannot understand how we feel. There is a camaraderie between vets. We truly are a band of brothers".

"My father was a waist gunner in the Air Force in World War II. He never talked about it," said McCarthy, who was a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and served in Vietnam for more than three years until returning home in 1968.

About two years later, McCarthy's oldest son was born. And in 2015, he was McCarthy's chaperone on the Honor Flight.

"It was an emotional experience for everybody. The Vietnam Memorial broke my heart," McCarthy said, referring to the three-part Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which includes long, black granite walls etched with the names of 58,320 service members who died on the battlefields of Vietnam.

When I asked McCarthy about his being a decorated war veteran, he said, "I was just lucky."

Phyllis McGuire writes from her home in Williamstown. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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