Oklahoma Honor Flight Program for WWII Vets to End

Photo taken from Oklahoma Honor Flight Facebook Page
Photo: Oklahoma Honor Flights Facebook Page

Oklahoma City – Six years and 20 flights after, the Oklahoma Honor Flights, a nonprofit organization which provides WWII veterans free trips to Washington DC to visit the WWII Memorial as well as other war monuments, will be closing its doors.

The Oklahoma Honor Flights organization was created way back in 2009 with the purpose of honoring servicemen and women who sacrificed and served during the Second World War. The Oklahoma Honor Flights charter flights to Washington DC for free for these WWII vets so that they may be able to personally see the monument built in their honor — the WWII Memorial in the National Mall, Washington DC.

Throughout its six years in existence, the Oklahoma Honor Flights have taken over 1,800 WWII veterans along with their guardians to the WWII Memorial in 20 flights. And according to the organization’s executive director, Gary Banz, this number will go up to more than 2,000 veterans due to the two upcoming chartered flights in the next two months.

Banz went on to say that the purpose of the Oklahoma Honor Flights from the very start was to “address the WWII guys because, unless somebody acted on their behalf, they would never see the WWII memorial”.

The memorial built in their honor was erected sixty years after the Second World War and, as what Banz pointed out, the time it was put up and dedicated [in 2004], most of the servicemen and women who served in WWII were in their retirement years and “for the most part had no thoughts of traveling — especially just to go see their memorial”.

Labor of Love

The Oklahoma Honor Flights spent between $100,000 to 110,000 to make each chartered flight possible. According to Banz, the organization obtained commitments from various individual and corporate donors to raise the money for each flight ahead of time. At this rate, the Oklahoma Honor Flights was able to raise about $2.25 to 2.5 million throughout its six years.

Banz divulged that while the WWII veterans enjoyed an all-expense paid trip to the country’s capital to visit their memorial, their guardians and administrative staff had to make a $500 donation to the organization as a way of covering their travel costs.

Each trip is a complete package. Before flying away, the WWII veterans are treated to a heartwarming send-off ceremony. Upon their return home to Oklahoma, they are also given a warm “Welcome Home” reception. Additionally, one of the highlights of the trip is the mail call – the reading of letters written by schoolchildren and addressed to the veterans. This occurs during the bus ride following the vets’ visit to their memorial.

Photo taken from the Oklahoma Honor Flights Facebook Page
Photo: Oklahoma Honor Flights Facebook Page

Banz also added that the Oklahoma Honor Flights is an all volunteer group, meaning, all its workers receive to pay right from the very beginning.

“Any accomplishment associated with our effort is deeply rooted in the sense of urgency we feel about giving these veterans the honor they are due while we still have time to do so,” he explained.

Smaller Flights and Grants

While Banz concedes that the news coverage of the two upcoming Oklahoma Honor Flights may result to a few more requests or applications, he says that the large chartered flights the organization do at present will most unlikely be needed.

As for these requests, Banz states that the organization will do its best to honor them by chartering smaller flights which would be done through purchasing blocks of seats in commercial flights.

On the other hand, the previous years saw the Oklahoma Honor Flight receiving applications from veterans of other war eras – the Korean War and Vietnam War vets to be exact – even though the organization never “advertised the flights as for their benefits”.

Banz said that Korean War vets had been included in recent flights when there were extra charter seats available. As a matter of fact, the October 21 chartered flight’s fliers consist mainly of servicemen who were in the Korean War.

While Banz stressed out that he equally honors the veterans of all war eras and him being a Vietnam War veteran himself, he did not feel the same compulsion to give free travels for Vietnam War vets to see their memorial as he did to WWII veterans. According to him, Vietnam War vets were still young and have had a greater opportunity to travel compared to the latter.

“That being said, all veterans deserve the attention we can give them — especially the Vietnam era guys who didn’t come home to positive responses,” he added.

The batch of veterans during the most recent Oklahoma Honor Flights trip, June 20 of this year. [Photo taken from the Oklahoma Honor Flights Facebook Page]
The batch of veterans during the most recent Oklahoma Honor Flights trip, June 20 of this year. [Photo: Oklahoma Honor Flights Facebook Page]
In line with this matter, he stated that the board has decided to give a $5,000 grant to whatever organization willing to take up the task as they at Oklahoma Honor Flight consider it a “worthwhile project”.

He even went on to add that the grant amount could be raised to more than the figure given if there there’s extra money available.


Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE