Chillin' at the Honor Flight chili fundraiser

2/16/2014

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

A good crowd came out for Saturday's chili feed, bake sale and silent auction at the Finney County Fairgrounds to raise money to send local veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the nation's war memorials and other sights.

Sponsored by the Finney County 4-H clubs, Saturday's event benefitted the Kansas Honor Flight program, which organizes trips to the capital for World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans free of charge.

Allen Joy, an Army veteran stationed in Korea from 1969-72 during the Vietnam War, said he has not been to see the monuments himself and doesn't have a desire to go, but supports the program.

"I came out here to make my contribution so those that want to go, can go," Joy said.

Jerry and Donna Bitter came to the Exhibition building to support the event, and enjoyed watching the Garden City High School drum line and JROTC military drill team performances.

"I think it's great that our high school has such a thing, and puts it on display for the public," Donna Bitter said. "It creates enthusiasm for things at the high school as well as getting the kids involved."

Jerry Bitter, a Vietnam veteran, took a personal trip to Washington — not as part of an honor flight — but with his father-in-law. The two of them saw the World War II Memorial. Both served in the Army.

Seeing the memorials was an "awesome" experience, Bitter said.

"I could tell my father-in-law was really enthused about it," he said.

It wasn't so much what his father-in-law said — he is a quiet man by nature, Bitter said. It was more the way he took everything in.

"I thought the most awesome thing was meeting other veterans, some of them in wheelchairs, and thanking them for their service," Bitter said. "It was pretty cool."

At some point, Bitter would like to sign up for the Honor Flight and go with a group of other veterans.

"I think it's a good program," he said. "But I want all the World War II and Korean vets to go first."

Rosemary Corbett, a member of the Kansas Honor Flight board of directors, said six trips are scheduled in the spring and more are planned in the fall depending on how much money is raised.

It costs $700 per seat to go on the trip.

"World War II veterans we require to have a guardian, because of their age, if they're 86 and older. A guardian pays the $700 fee, and veterans pay absolutely nothing," she said.

Guardians must be under 70. Corbett said they can be a family member but they also have applications for unattached guardians who want to help out those veterans who don't have someone who could act as a guardian.

Overall, Kansas Honor Flight is looking to raise about $210,000. So far, it has raised about $142,000 across the state, and needs roughly $69,000 to fully fund the six spring trips in April, May and June.

Trips are usually two nights and three days, and take on average 52 people per trip.

"We see a lot more than the war memorials. We go to Ft. McHenry, the fort that protected Baltimore and where the Star Spangled Banner was written. We go to the Memorial Mall, starting at the World War II memorial, then we'll walk to the Korean, Lincoln and Vietnam," Corbett said.

Honor flight groups also see the Smithsonian Air and Space museum and go to Arlington National Cemetery and see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

"Almost every time we arrange to have four of our guys lay a wreath at the tomb, which is really special," Corbett said.

The honor flight program is just getting back on its feet since Central Prairie Honor Flight was shut down in 2012 for a variety of problems, including $100,000 in missing funds. Former director LaVeta Miller was arrested in 2012 by Barton County authorities on allegations of theft in connection with the missing funds.

"We're still waiting on the trial," Corbett said. "The last we heard she was supposed to get mentally evaluated last fall."

When asked how the reorganized Kansas Honor Flight is dealing with the fallout, Corbett said they emphasize moving forward.

"We just try to say, that's in the past. We're focused on the future. We're maintaining the mission," she said.

Since starting back up last year, the program has made 10 trips.

Corbett said it's important to know that Kansas Honor Flights have started taking applications for veterans of the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Previously, the organization was focused on World War II veterans.

Right now, there are 56 World War II veterans, 176 Korean War veterans, and 104 Vietnam War veterans signed up.

More information is available at www.kansashonorflight.org.

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