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Veterans take to the skies through Flight of Honor

By Elizabeth Cook
ecook@salisburypost.com Some 120 World War II veterans from the region will fly to Washington, D.C., Saturday and view the memorial built in their honor, thanks to Flight of Honor and area Rotary clubs.
An October trip is already booked up. And participants from an earlier trip in April are spreading the word in a way that may inspire more.
The group not only toured the new World War II Memorial and other sites, they also met cheering crowds at several points along the way in the whirlwind, one-day trip.
“It’s been an experience for me I’ll never forget,” says Ray Simpson of Trinity Oaks, who went with the April group. “It was very touching.”
John Cadwallader, Don Clement and Bill Swaim of Salisbury also were in that group, accompanied by Dianne Scott, now president of the Salisbury Rotary.
“The Honor Flight was a great experience,” says Cadwallader, 90, who flew 71 bomber missions over north Africa, Italy and southern France during World War II in the Army Air Force. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel.
“Everyone treated us beautifully,” the colonel says. “One guy even pronounced ‘Cadwallader.’ ”
When he was first asked if he wanted to go on the trip, he said yes, with one condition. Scott, who often sits next to him at Rotary, would go, too. She agreed.
The memorial opened in May 2004, nearly 60 years after the end of the war and 17 years after the tribute was first proposed.
“It took too many years…,” Cadwallader says. “But it was worth it.”
He said he was impressed by the memorial’s grandeur and size ó 7.4 acres of bronze and granite, as big as a football field, built around a pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Former Sens. Bob and Elizabeth Dole greeted the Salisbury contingent and joined the entire group for a picnic lunch. Bob Dole, also a World War II vet, headed the drive to raise $191 million for the memorial and has made a point of meeting Honor Air groups when they visit.
The group flying out of Charlotte Douglas Airport at 9 a.m. Saturday includes veterans and guardians from Rowan and Cabarrus again, along with several other communities. After a full day, they are expected to return to Charlotte at 8:15-8:30 p.m.
The Rotarians of District 7680 created The Flight of Honor last year as a service project to honor World War II veterans. At the time, Bob Wilson of Mooresville was governor of the district, which includes Iredell, Alleghany, Alexander, Anson, Ashe, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Mecklenburg, Richmond, Rowan, Stanly, Union and Wilkes counties.
Flight of Honor is a continuation of a program begun in 2006 by North Carolina resident Jeff Miller, called HonorAir.
Each trip costs more than $60,000 for chartering the U.S. Airways plane, buses for ground transportation in D.C., lunch during the day and other expenses.
In addition to the honorees, each flight includes one guardian for each three veterans, a doctor and emergency medical technicians. Needs such as wheelchairs and oxygen are accommodated.
Steve Brandt, who handles public relations for the Cabarrus Rotary, was also on the April Flight of Honor and shared videotape from the visit at the Salisbury Rotary Club Tuesday.
He showed crowds cheering the veterans at several points of the trip, and teenagers walking up to them at the memorial to thank the veterans for their service.
Brandt said he saw tears of joy and sadness as the veterans visited several war memorials.
He said the district is hoping to send any veteran who is willing and able to go.
Rotary clubs in the district raised money in the spring to send the first group of 120 veterans. That included $5,000 from the Salisbury club.
Now the clubs are appealing to individuals, companies, foundations and other organizations to help provide funding for more flights.
The flights are provided at no cost to the veterans.
Rotarians are contributing financially and providing the people to organize and direct each flight.
Anyone can sponsor a veteran for $500 and assure that veteran a seat on one of the flights if the veteran’s health is good enough to receive medical approval from the flight doctor.
A family may want to sponsor a veteran in honor of a relative who has already passed away.
Sponsorship will be mentioned in the booklet of short veteran biographies that will be given to every veteran on a Flight of Honor.
Contributions should be sent to Flight of Honor, P.O. Box 495, Gastonia, N.C. 28053.
Applications for veterans who would like to make the trip are available at www.flightofhonor.org.

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