By Woodrow Polston
Two veterans from the Vandalia area were flown to Washington, D.C., last week courtesy of the Honor Flight Network. Brothers Dennis and Gordon Kraft, who served in the Vietnam War, were on an Honor Flight waiting list for several years. Patricia Kraft, who is Gordon’s wife, said that the call came as a surprise.
“They had signed up for the Honor Flight before the pandemic hit,” said Patricia. “They called us on a Saturday and told us that they had two cancellations. They asked us if we could attend a meeting and then go on the flight the following weekend. So, it seems like it happened really fast,” she added.
At 5:30 a.m. on Monday, June 20, flight No. 8039 departed St. Louis in a Boeing 737 headed for the nation’s capital. There were approximately 143 people on board including 99 veterans that were being honored. At approximately 8:15 a.m., they arrived at Reagan National Airport. The Honor Flight itinerary included a special tour of Washington, D.C. monuments, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Marine Iwo Jima Memorial, the WW2 Memorial, The Lincoln, Korea, and Vietnam Memorials, a rolling tour of D.C. and dinner at the Air Force Memorial. Dennis Kraft said that he enjoyed the experience.
“It was above and beyond.” said Dennis. “We were gone for about 24 hours. We saw a lot while we were there. It was the first time that I had toured Washington, D.C., I went to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training when I joined the Army. From there I went to North Carolina to Fort Bragg where I worked on wheeled vehicles. After a 30-day layover they shipped me over to Vietnam. When I came home, I worked a few different jobs. I worked for the city, I worked for the brick plant, and then I worked for the Bowling Green Post Office for 17 years delivering mail. Now I farm as a hobby,” he added.
The Honor Flight Network was formed in 2005 by Jeff Miller and Earl Morse with a mission of honoring our nation’s veterans by bringing them to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials and monuments dedicated to their service and sacrifice. While originally focused on honoring our nation’s World War II veterans, the Honor Flight Network also honors those who served in the Korean War, Vietnam War, intermediary operations, and in special cases of terminal illness or injury, veterans from more recent service eras.
Dennis said that the most intriguing parts of the experience for him were the Vietnam Wall, and the escort of bikers and state patrol vehicles on the route.
“They had two tow trucks with the booms out, with flags dropped down for display. Between all of the bikers, sheriffs and state patrol vehicles that were involved we had the whole highway to ourselves. We were also applauded in the airports. It was really special,” said Dennis.
According to their website, “The mission of Honor Flight is to celebrate America’s veterans by inviting them to share in a day of honor at our nation’s memorials. The Honor Flight Network is a national network comprised of independent Hubs working together in furtherance of the Honor Flight mission. In furtherance of this common goal, we have the opportunity to show our nation’s veterans the appreciation and honor they deserve. Participation in an Honor Flight trip gives veterans the opportunity to share this momentous occasion with other comrades, to remember friends and comrades lost, and share their stories and experiences with other veterans. All honored veterans travel at no cost to the veteran.
“Since its formation in 2005, the Honor Flight Network has taken more than 245,000 veterans to Washington, D.C., Today, the Honor Flight Network is currently comprised of over 128 hubs throughout the country dedicated to carrying out the Honor Flight mission and the Network, as a whole, serves over 22,000 veterans each year.”