American Airlines, one of the carriers that brings elderly veterans from around the country to D.C. so they can see the memorials dedicated in their honor, reached a major milestone Tuesday with its 700th Honor Flight.
The flight brought 82 veterans from Sioux Falls Regional Airport in South Dakota to Reagan National Airport for a whirlwind tour that included stops at Arlington National Cemetery, the Marine Corps War Memorial, and the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials.
The group included six World War II veterans, 70 Korean War veterans, and six veterans of the Vietnam War who live in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.
Marvin Andersen, 98, of Dakota City, Nebraska, served in the Army in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. While visiting the National World War II Memorial for the first time, he called it “great,” but said more memorials are needed in the nation’s capital to recognize the servicemen and women who came after him.
“I feel now we’re going to have to do something about the Middle East, the troops that are over there — but pretty soon, they’re going to run out of room,” Andersen said with a laugh.
Korean War veteran Harvey DeGroot, who was also in the Army, is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“It’s just hard to give expression to how much this is appreciated, that thought was given to the American veteran. Freedom isn’t free,” he said while visiting the National World War II Memorial.
Tuesday’s flight was organized by the nonprofit group Midwest Honor Flight, one of at least 130 regional hubs of the Honor Flight Network.
“I’ve had a couple of (veterans) today already say, ‘I would have never been able to do this had it not been for something like this’. That really makes this all worth it,” said Aaron Van Beek, president and director of Midwest Honor Flight.
He also praised American Airlines.
“They do a fantastic job with prepping everything for us, they do a great job discounting the charter as best they can, but every Honor Flight is 100% volunteer, really digging into the grassroots of getting the funds to get these flights off the ground,” Van Beek said. “[There is] no government funding, nothing from the state or anything like that. Guardians pay their way, but the veterans always fly free,” Van Beek said.
One of the veterans, Frank Manchel, 95, of San Diego, tragically collapsed and died on his return flight.