• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Honor Flight program comes to WC Library

One by one, veterans, some accompanied by family members, stood up in a room at the Woodford County Library Friday and introduced themselves.

They told which branch of the Armed Services they served in, how long they served, and sometimes their brief comments included words like “World War II,” “Korea,” and “Vietnam.”

The occasion was a lunch to honor them and an invitation for them to take part in an honor flight, which offers veterans round-trip flights to the nation’s capital and tours of the World War II, Korean and Vietnam War memorials. Sometimes they visit Arlington National Cemetery and have an opportunity to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Honor Flight Kentucky “ambassador” Phillip Pittman, who retired from the U.S. Army in 1991 as a lieutenant colonel after 25 years of duty, including two tours in Vietnam, was the speaker. He said the non-profit, with the help of generous sponsors, has had seven flights from Lexington to Washington, D.C. since Dec. 2015.

“We fly veterans in order of priority – World War II, Korea, Vietnam – for a one-day trip to Washington, D.C. absolutely free, (they) pay for nothing. You get to tour all the monuments and memorials that are dedicated for your service and sacrifice,” Pittman said.

Korean War veteran Don Hampton spoke highly of his trip.

“It was really something I’ll never forget. I really appreciate the trip and I’ve talked about it a lot to other veterans,” Hampton told the crowd. “It’s really a good day from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. And I’ve been up there since to be in the group to welcome them back.”

Hampton got a laugh when he explained why the Sept. 16 “welcome back” he’d come to Blue Grass Airport for didn’t go off as planned when the return home was diverted to Charlotte.

“We stayed until nearly midnight until we found out it wasn’t coming back at all,” he said.

Pittman said this year, just eight of the veterans who took Kentucky Honor Flights were from Woodford County – compared to 76 from Lexington.

“I would dearly love to see a dramatic increase in Woodford’s number -- we know the veterans are out there, (we) just need to keep plugging away and get them signed up,” Pittman told The Sun. Among the better-known vets who took honor flights this year was Matthew Bradford, who lost his eyesight and both legs in Iraq. Bradford’s flight, Pittman said proudly, happened the day before the Oct. 15 Iron Horse Half Marathon in Midway, which Bradford completed, in a wheelchair, accompanied by his wife.

Pittman said the goal of the program is simple: to honor as many veterans as possible. He said when Honor Flight Kentucky was beginning, he had three talks scheduled in one day in Garrard County, and was told that the mayor of Lancaster was looking for him.

“Oh my gosh, I thought I’d done something wrong. He said, ‘You’ve been spending so much time in Garrard County, he wants to make sure you’re paying taxes in Garrard County,’” Pittman said.

Pittman said the first Honor Flight program took off in Dayton, Ohio, shortly after the World War II Memorial was dedicated.

“Invariably, (veterans) would say they can’t go, I need somebody to go with me, I can’t afford it. This guy named Earl Morris said I’m going to fix this,” Pittman said.

The following year six friends of Morris’s took two veterans apiece to see the WW II Memorial. Similar programs began in North Carolina, Louisville, and elsewhere, and on Friday, Pittman urged veterans to fill out sign-up sheets for the next trip.

Today, Honor Flight Kentucky’s motto is, “There’s no greater honor than to serve the men and women who’ve put on the uniform to serve our great nation.”

Hampton suggested the honor – and pleasure – was his.

“It’s a great trip. If you haven’t been, go,” he said.

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