A few months ago, the Houston Honor Flight Chapter visited the Noon Lions Club in Friendswood, Texas. The presenter highlighted the Honor Flight’s volunteer program known as Guardians. Guardians accompany WWII, Korean and Vietnam War veterans to Washington, D.C., so they may visit the memorials that honor their service and sacrifices. The Honor Flight program recruits and trains these volunteers, arranges for transportation to and from DC, and funds the trip for the veterans through donations..
In attendance that day was Jim Hawkins, Branch Sales Manager for Caliber Home Loans. Employees of Caliber, like Jim, strive to be ambassadors of goodwill in our military communities. And, the Guardian program is one that is in lock step with that vision. As such, Jim knew he wanted to become a Guardian and show his support to these veterans. After completing training, Jim was paired with his travel partner for the September Honor Flight, Roy Jacoby, a 91-year old WWII veteran.
Jim picked up Roy from his ranch in Menard, Texas, and drove to Austin to make their Friday 10 am Honor Flight to Washington DC with 7 other WWII veterans. Another 11 Vietnam and 21 Korean veterans were joining them at the airport. As the group proceeded through the terminal, other passengers cheered, clapped and shook the veterans’ hands while thanking them for their service. More displays of gratitude came as they prepared for take-off when airport personnel performed a water cannon salute. Upon arrival at Reagan Airport the Honor Flight group received another water cannon salute as the cheering crowds welcomed them to DC.
The WWII veterans on the trip received additional recognition as their numbers are dwindling. “Based on recent statistics, we are losing World War II Veterans at the rate of approximately 492 per day. This means there are approximately only 855,070 Veterans remaining of the 16 million who served our nation in World War II,” per Honor Flight Houston. So, on the group’s first stop at the WWII Memorial, an Honor Guard marched these veterans to the fountains and made them a part of the ceremony.
Thereafter, they visited all the other war memorials as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a stop Jim was especially looking forward to making. There, Roy Jacoby was given the honor of being a part of the Changing of The Guard where he placed the wreath on the Unknown Soldier's Tomb, a memory he will cherish forever.
During the flight to Austin, Honor Flight staff arranged a mail call for each veteran. Each veteran received approximately 12-15 Thank You Cards, Letters and Welcome Home Banners from the their hometown school children, state government officials, and even family members. Recounting this moment, Jim, a veteran himself, stated, “There were tears shed by several veterans even from this Guardian. I can remember looking forward to mail call and the enjoyable feeling of getting letters.”
Yet another water cannon salute welcomed them back to the tarmac in Austin. And once off the plane, Jim and Roy were greeted with an even larger welcoming as they rolled through the terminal complete with Honor Guard, balloons, Welcome Home banners, clapping, cheering, music, hand shaking and hugs from passengers and even some of Roy's family members.
When asked about the overall experience of being a Guardian, Jim shared, “I was told this would be remembered as a trip of a lifetime for these veterans. And now I can speak from experience and confirm it absolutely was a trip of a lifetime! I was honored to have the privilege of accompanying not only a friend but a WWII veteran. Being with all these veterans of past wars who not only saved the world but set the bar for all future soldiers on keeping our country safe was a privilege.”
For more information on Honor Flight Houston or to participate in a future flight as a veteran or Guardian, please visit www.honorflighthouston.org.
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