Don MacLean of Carrabelle and Mary Britz of Lanark Village experienced the trip of a lifetime when Honor Flight of Tallahassee flew them to Washington DC for a day to visit the World War II Memorial.
The Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices, transports veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to World War II survivors, along with other veterans who may be terminally ill. The inaugural Honor Flight Tour took place in May of 2005. Six small planes flew out of Springfield, Ohio taking twelve World War II veterans on a visit to the memorial in Washington, DC. The Honor Flight Network program was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and Retired Air Force Captain employed by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Britz and MacLean, both World War II veterans, were part of a group of 77 vets who went to Washington April 26. Each was accompanied by a guardian. A doctor, seven emergency technicians and two nurses traveled with them on a Boeing 757 provided by Miami Air.
While the veterans travel free, the guardians and medical staff pay for their own flight.
Because Honor Flight trips start early, Britz and MacLean decided to spend the night of April 25 in Tallahassee. They stayed at Homewood Suites on Apalachee Parkway. Preston Scott on WFLA-FM announced during a broadcast that they were looking for accommodations. J. H. Leale, president of Ricky Carmichael Racing was one of about 20 people who offered to pay for their rooms. He made the reservations but, when hotel General Manager Ashley Schneider found out who the rooms were for, she refused payment.
Meals were also donated for the happy travelers.
MacLean said the day began at 5 a.m. when the party gathered for breakfast at the “millionaire hanger” at Tallahassee Airport.
Participants were given t-shirts, gold for veterans, blue for guardians and red for medical personnel. Veterans also received goody bags.
MacLean and Britz praised organizer Mack Kemp. “Mack deserves a pile of credit. He spent a year getting ready for the flight,” said MacLean.
“Everything went so smooth, it was unbelievable,” Britz said,
The group departed Tallahassee at 7 a.m. They landed in Baltimore and were divided into three groups, red, white and blue. MacLean was in the red group, and Mary in the blue, and they traveled by color-coded bus with a police escort.
“I think we traveled through Baltimore going about 80 miles per hour,” MacLean said,
Each veteran was provided with a wheel chair. All told, five planeloads of Honor Flight travelers visited Washington that day.
In addition to placing a wreath at the World War II Memorial, the group visited the National Mall and Arlington Cemetery where they watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Britz said the cherry trees were in bloom at Arlington, which made the burial ground particularly lovely. She said the World War II Memorial was “so immense, we could have spent the whole day there.”
They dined on box lunches while traveling between sights. It was a second trip to the nation’s capital for both travelers.
Britz and her husband attended the dedication of the Women’s Memorial there in 1978. MacLean took a school trip to the Smithsonian when he was 10 years old.
MacLean said everywhere they went on the Honor Flight trip, they were welcomed by throngs of people including many children. Groups represented included the Shriners, Boy and Girl Scouts, Knights of Columbus, Patriot Guard and military honor guards.
During the trip, Britz reconnected with a friend from long ago. She began talking to former Marine Bud Ledson seated next to her on the plane. After comparing notes, they realized Mary had nursed Bud in San Diego when he was sent home wounded from the Pacific Theatre. They spoke for the first time in 69 years even thought they have been living only 60 miles apart. Ledson, who resides in Tallahassee, is the author of “US Marines Wings over the Pacific.”
Britz’ daughter, Cheryl, said the pair is now speaking on the phone every day.
On arriving home in Tallahassee at the end of their 20-hour journey, the veterans were greeted by Governor Rick Scott who presented each with a gold medal expressing the appreciation of Florida’s citizens for their sacrifices and patriotism.
“This has really been a great, great honor and privilege,” Britz said. “I'm just thrilled to death with it. It was a very nostalgic trip. I don’t think there were too many dry eyes when we visited Arlington. I couldn’t believe it. All this attention for doing something we all wanted to do at the time.”
For more information about Honor Flight or to register a veteran for the program, visit www.honorflight.org