“NCIS,” the highly-rated drama on CBS, gave its viewers a look into what Space Coast Honor Flight does every day.
Bill Welser is the president of Space Coast Honor Flight. He leads a team that provides all-expenses-paid trips to Washington, DC to veterans. The trips give the veterans the chance to see the monuments that have been erected in the US capital to honor them for their service. Welser himself has been on the trip forty times.
Welser is happy to tell you that they have never been involved in the type of criminal investigation portrayed in NCIS. He did say that, other than the fictional detective story, the show accurately showed the experience veterans have when they participate in a Space Coast Honor Flight.
Space Coast Honor Flight began in 2010 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Since then, they have flown 1,050 World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans to see the monuments. At the beginning of this year, they had over 200 veterans waiting for the honor of going on one of the trips.
Pat Smith was on the most recent trip which began on March 18. He called it one of the best days of his life. Smith is WWII veteran of the Coast Guard.
Fred D. Bartleson, Jr. was on the same trip. Bartleson is a retired Air Force Lieutenant who said the trip was very emotional. His daughter escorted him on the trip. She said they were overwhelmed by the “love, respect and honor“ her father received.
The writer of the “NCIS” episode wrote from experience. Gina Lucita Monreal was led to write the episode after seeing the pride and sense of purpose her grandfather-in-law had after returning from an honor flight.
Welser said that the group has seven flights lined up for 2017, including the trip in March. The other six flights are: April 22, May 20, June 24, August 19, September 9, and October 14. All trips leave from Wickham Park Senior Center, Florida Today reported.
Veterans are given the opportunity to reflect on their service while visiting the Air Force Memorial; the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery; World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials; and the Marin Corps Iwo Jima Memorial. The day ends back at the Wickham Park Senior Center with a “Welcome Home Celebration” that includes a Patrick AFB Honor Guard saber arch testimonial.
According to Smith, he never considered himself a hero, “but after being greeted by hundreds of people showing their gratitude and thanking us for our service, I felt very extra special.”