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Locals to form Honor Flight group

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

CONYERS -- A group of local residents is working to establish an Honor Flight in Conyers that will offer area veterans the opportunity to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C.

Honor Air, which conducts the flights, is made up of volunteers across the country whose efforts are spun off from the original 2005 flight from Springfield, Ohio. Honor Air provides veterans a free flight to Washington, D.C., as a thank you for their service.

World War II veterans are given priority since they are in their late 80s and early '90s. Many have never been to Washington or seen the World War II Memorial that opened in their honor in 2005.

The idea is to honor veterans for their courage, valor and sacrifice at a time the country needed it most.

Dave and Anita Smith of Conyers are heading up the effort locally. They said they were inspired after hearing a presentation at the Rotary Club of Rockdale County from someone with Honor Flight Fayetteville in Fayette County.

Dave Smith said the goal is to serve veterans in Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties, but veterans from other counties will be welcomed. He said they have already been contacted by someone in Madison County to sign up a relative for an Honor Flight.

Smith flew with a group of World War II veterans to Washington in September. He called it "an experience" of witnessing how much people appreciated the veterans throughout their trip, beginning with cheers from people at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

"After they arrive in Washington, D.C., why, it's kind of the same thing again when they get off the plane in the concourse," he said. "The whole concourse was full of people cheering them on, and there were some soldiers there to help push wheelchairs and help them get on the tour buses. There again, they were getting cheered all the way."

The veterans visit Arlington Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial during the one-day trip to Washington. Smith said he served as a guardian for two veterans on the flight. Overall, there were 110 people flown from Atlanta on a chartered AirTran flight to Washington and back.

"The thing I was told by a few of them is that they don't think we really understand and know exactly how much they appreciate being able to take this trip," Smith said.

The decision to form a local Honor Flight group followed Honor Flight Fayetteville's plans to disband this year. Smith said organizers there said their original intent was to serve local veterans.

However, more veterans were traveling longer distances to take Honor Air flights from Fayetteville and the logistics were becoming more demanding. The flight Smith took was Honor Flight Fayetteville's last. Overall, they organized seven flights and flew more than 500 veterans to Washington.

Smith said the Fayetteville group is mentoring organizers here to get the Honor Flight effort started in Conyers.

The local group has a name, Honor Flight Conyers Inc., and a board of directors. Smith said they are in the process of filing for 503(c)(3) nonprofit status.

Fund raising will be the first job once Honor Flight Conyers is able to solicit for contributions. It costs $400 per veteran to fly to Washington. Volunteer guardians pay their own way and help one or two veterans on the trip. Smith said each Honor Air flight also includes paramedics and a nurse practitioner to be ready for any health issue that comes up.

In the end, Smith said service to veterans, who sacrificed in their service to the country, makes the work worthwhile.

"It's a moving event for all of the guardians because it's (the veterans') day, you know, it's total recognition," Smith said. "The guardians go along to make the day right for them, not for our pleasure but for theirs."

The goal is to have the first Honor Flight from Conyers organized sometime in the spring.

For more information to join or sign up for Honor Flight Conyers, e-mail honorflightconyers@comcast.net or call Smith at 770-483-4049.