A well-deserved salute

Honor Flight Network has an important and timely mission.

Their goal is to fly World War II veterans to visit their memorial in Washington, DC.

The dream began in May 2005 when 12 veterans were flown free of charge to the WWII Memorial, and it continues today. In addition to the flight, veterans’ food and lodging is paid for. All they have to do is pack a bag and sit back and enjoy the ride.

Locally, Kelly Chambers is a volunteer who flies four times a year from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Washington, D.C. with a veteran. Volunteers pay their own way. Each veteran is paired with a volunteer who helps push a wheelchair, carries their bags or whatever is needed.

“I feel like it is hard work and tiring, but so much fun that the hard work doesn’t matter,” said Chambers.

The trip includes a visit to the memorial, the Korean and Vietnam war memorials, the Lincoln Monument and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial.

“Many of our veterans get very emotional at the Vietnam memorial, and then at the FDR memorial they share memories from their childhood,” said Chambers.

A banquet follows, as well as a visit to Arlington Cemetery. It is a fast-paced and jam-packed trip, but the veterans soak up every minute of the experience.

Former Air Force pilot Melvin Wilson, 93, was delighted to take the trip last May. His son, Jeff, served as his volunteer guardian, which made the trip even more meaningful for Wilson.

Wilson, who lives in Lakewood, was impressed with how well-organized the trip was.

“There was no doubt about what we were going to do – transportation, everything was all set up,” he said.

Wilson was drafted when he was 19 years old. He was married and working for Boeing when he got his notice. He was assigned to Fort Lewis and then took basic training in Fresno, Calif., where he took a test for aviation cadets.

Wilson said he graduated from pilot’s training in August 1944 as a second lieutenant and flew P-39s and P-63s. In addition to serving in WWII, Wilson served in Korea and Vietnam. He was 46 years old when he retired from the Air Force.

“I didn’t want to retire from the service. I had a good rank and I got to fly,” said Wilson.

He clearly enjoyed the Honor Flight trip, which included 55 veterans and their guardians. On the flight home, each veteran receives a package of mail from their families and even schoolchildren thanking them for their service.

When the veterans return to Sea-Tac, they are welcomed by a large number of volunteers as they walk up the ramp, thanking them for their service.

They also are greeted by uniformed active-duty members, “and someone from the same branch greets each veteran,” said Chambers.

An Air Force corporal greeted Wilson. “There couldn’t have been a better ending to the trip than that,” he said.

At the baggage area, Wilson was surprised to see 12 of his family members there to greet him.

“You just can’t imagine what it is like until you have done it. The whole trip was military planning,” said Wilson.

Chambers never gets tired of accompanying a veteran on the trip.

“The emotion kind of sneaks up on you. It is so powerful when we return to be walking through the airport and people are getting up out of their chairs and standing and clapping,” she said, adding that her dad served in the military and she never got a chance to thank him for his service. “This is a way to honor him by taking care of the veterans and making sure they have a good time.”

“When I got home, I had a lot to remember,” Wilson said. “I didn’t feel sad. Most of the people there were proud of what they had done. I know I was.”


Joan Cronk, who wrote this article,

Arlington National Cemetery is among the places World War II veterans visit in Washington, D.C. as part of Honor Flights.
Arlington National Cemetery is among the places World War II veterans visit in Washington, D.C. as part of Honor Flights.

is a freelance writer from Puyallup.