A deep respect for WWII veterans and a wish to honor them are reasons behind the efforts of a fledgling Ellis County group that is organizing a flight to Washington, D.C., to let the veterans see the memorial that was placed there in their honor in 2004.
“I was watching ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ and I saw the efforts of a group in North Carolina that sent their veterans to see their memorial and I felt like our veterans deserve the same opportunity,” co-organizer Marilyn Wylie said.
The nationally acclaimed program was started by a retired Air Force captain in Ohio who worked with WWII veterans and knew their desire to see the memorial was hampered by their financial situations.
“This man took it upon himself to get a program together that would fly veterans to Washington free of charge so that a generation that is quickly becoming smaller and smaller could see the national appreciation of their efforts,” Wylie said. “If he could make it happen and little towns all over the country can make it happen, so can Ellis County.”
The program is funded through donations and is free to all veterans who wish to participate. The local group has been meeting in Ennis and is actively trying to recruit veterans to make the flight.
“I really think the program can work. We just have to have the participation of the veterans to make it happen. We plan to make the trip in May and we have a lot of work to do before then so the sooner we know how many veterans would like to participate the sooner we can work at getting the donations needed to make it happen,” co-organizer Kathryn Bennett said.
The group will hold fund-raisers and ask for donations throughout the community and also for volunteers.
“The program calls for ‘guardians’ to accompany the veterans on the trip and help with those in wheelchairs or that have oxygen tanks and other special needs,” Wylie said. “We will need lots of volunteers to help meet that quota so we are hoping for county-wide support. Expenses for the guardian are not covered by the funds donated to cover the cost of transporting the veterans so anyone interested could either pay their own way or be sponsored.”
The local group is hoping to beat a Dallas group that is in the process of organizing a flight and have the distinction of being the first group in Texas to introduce the program. They are even asking a famous WWII veteran with Texas roots to be the honorary chairman of the group.
“We are sending a letter to (former) President George Bush Sr. to ask for his support with our efforts. We hope he lends us a hand with this important program,” Wylie said.
The group has already secured support from the office of Congressman Joe Barton, whose staff will help with the arrangements when the group gets to Washington.
“Congressman Barton is very much in support of the program and hopes that all interested veterans plan to make the trip,” said Dub Maines of Barton’s office. “We will be mostly involved with the effort when the group reaches Washington but we will do what we can to support this project.”
For more information about the program, visit the national Web site at www.honorflight.org.
To become involved in the Ellis County group, contact Wylie at 972-875-8836 or attend the next organizational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 27 at the Ennis Public Library.