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Honor Flight veterans touched by tribute

When the nouns “honor” and “flight” are used together, they can only mean one thing: America’s military veterans are being flown on a no-cost (to them) sojourn to Washington, D.C., to view the monuments that commemorate the military history of the United States.

Honor Flight Southern Nevada is headed by Nevadan Belinda Morse, who formed the southern branch of the nonprofit. Her father was in the Air Force in Vietnam and her husband is also an Air Force veteran.

“I always volunteered with organizations wherever we lived,” she said.

This year the group included two 82-year-old widows, Jean Mohler and Joan Keltner, who happen to be identical twins. Veterans of the Cold War, they joined the Marines and were stationed at the Marine base in El Toro, California.

There was one World War II veteran among the group, Leslie Camp, 95, who was in the Army Air Corps working as an engineer keeping U.S. warplanes operating.

“I worked on parts, wheels, anything that needed servicing,” he said. Regarding his Honor Flight visit, he said, “I’ve enjoyed the association with other veterans.”

Mort Friedlander is an Air Force veteran of Vietnam, who is currently director of the Las Vegas-based nonprofit Kline Veterans Fund. “This Honor Flight was as eventful as it could have been,” he said. “I enjoyed it immensely.”

The group of senior citizens, along with their volunteer guardians, visited memorials for World War II, the Marine Corps, Korean War, Vietnam Wall, Arlington National Cemetery and the Air Force museum. (The planned Navy museum and National Archives visits were canceled due to rain.)

Participants who were asked all agreed that the highlight of the visit was an elaborate ceremony held in the rain at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington. Beginning with a female guard carrying a rifle and meticulously walking a mat while following a prescribed number of steps timed to the second, she continued until there was a symbolic changing of the guard, a memorable sight to see in itself. (The guard changes every hour during winter months.)

After the guard changing, dark clouds appeared and rain began to fall. Irrespective of the downpour, four Nevada veterans from the Honor Flight braved the rain and presented a wreath to a guard, who placed it on a stand in front of the tomb. The fact that it was raining did not deter from the proceedings. In fact, it added to the solemnity of the event and the overall ceremony brought tears to many who viewed the transfer of the wreath. The proud veterans were Army veteran Jackson Thompson, Camp, Mohler and Keltner.

Morse made it clear that eligible veterans for the flights do not have to have been in combat. It doesn’t matter if veterans worked stateside, never carried a weapon, only toiled in the supply room or in the motor pool or as a clerk or cook, or took part in other noncombatant roles.

“They are all veterans and they served the nation,” she pointed out.

For more information, to apply to take part in future Honor Flights, volunteer as a guardian or donate, call 702-749-5912 or go to honorflightsouthernnevada.org.

Chuck N. Baker is an award-winning journalist and a Vietnam War Purple Heart veteran. He can be heard at 8:30 a.m. each Sunday on KKVV-AM hosting “That’s America to Me” and occasionally on KUNV-FM hosting “America’s Veterans, Today and Tomorrow.”

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