By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
In five honor flights since May 2011, Wayne Lennep has watched while veterans of World War II visited the many memorials erected in their honor in our nation's capital.
During those times of overseeing the trips, Lennep has seen the wide range of emotions from these men and women who endured the horrors of war in the name of Democracy and freedom.
Cemented in Lennep's mind is the vision of a veteran breaking off from the main group, shuffling over to a particular section of the WWII memorial. Lennep watched as the quiet man from Mississippi stared. Lennep could only guess what was going through the man's mind. Was he remembering the faces of young men who died on distant shores? Was he thinking about the exodus of civilians from war torn towns trying to flee for safety as army's collided on the fields of battle? Lennep couldn't be sure. What was sure was the honor the man held for those memories as he gave as sharp a salute someone in their late 80s could give, and then slowly shuffled away.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, a non-profit group in Gulfport, is taking applications now for their sixth and possibly their final trip to Washington, D.C. scheduled for October of this year. Since the first flight, Lennep, who is the public information director for the MGCHF, says they have flown hundreds of Mississippi WWII veterans to see the memorials. Although he didn't serve in any of the nation's armed forces, Lennep, like so many who volunteer their time to the program, see this as their way of serving their country through the veterans.
"I do this to honor them," Lennep says. "These men and women are special. Tom Brokaw said they are our greatest generation and they are dying at a rate of one thousand a day. We owe it to them to let them go and see these monuments immortalizing their achievements. To know they are not forgotten."
The one-day excursion leaves Gulfport at around 7 a.m. and returns roughly 12 hours later. Lennep said buses transport the veterans to the WWII memorial, the Vietnam Wall, the Korean War exhibits, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington National Cemetery.
In between the memorials, lunch is served on one of the monument's greens, with state political representatives on hand to welcome the vets. Everywhere they go the vets are treated with the admiration and respect. Upon coming home, a huge assembly of both civilians and military personnel from the various detachments stationed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast give the vets a heroes welcome.
"During the flights we have a full medical staff with a doctor, RNs and paramedics on board, Lennep says. "If a vet is on oxygen or in a wheel chair we will make accommodations for them. We don't want to leave anyone behind."
In addition to the medical staff, for every veteran on the flight they have assigned to them a guardian, a person who is responsible for every need the veteran may have.
Lennep says the reason this may be the last flight for the veterans is that the number of applications has gone down drastically. Lennep believes the reasoning for that may be twofold.
"Economy is one," Lennep says. "We rely on donations and for each vet to fly it costs $500. We have had a fantastic group of donors through the years but you can only go to the well so often. Secondly, we may have taken the majority of vets who want to go."
More information and applications are available at: www.mgchonorflight.org.