Kansas Honor Flights to resume

Chad Frey
The Kansan

In 2016 two Newton residents — Gaylord Gaylord Sanneman and Paul Sanford — received a special gift and honor. Members of a "Kansas Honor Flight" the two veterans were able to laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 2016 two Newton residents — Gaylord Gaylord Sanneman and Paul Sanford — received a special gift and honor. Members of a "Kansas Honor Flight" the two veterans were able to laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I can’t describe the feeling,” Sanford said at the time. “That is one of the most solemn places there is, and the guard takes that very seriously. ... When you walked out there, in front of everybody and have your hand on that wreath, then step back and salute ... That really got to me.”

Sanneman is Vietnam era veteran, while Sanford  served in Korea. 

An honor flight, organized entirely by volunteers, is a the trip of a lifetime for some veterans. Since 2012 the program has hosted veterans from each of Kansas' 105 counties. 

But for more than a year and half, there have not been any flights from Kansas to Washington, D.C. filled with veterans in red shirts. COVID-19 brought that to a halt. 

Flights are set to resume, and organizers are ready.

"We have not flown since November of 2019," said Mike VanCampen, Kansas Honor Flight president. "We will have 10 flights in an 11 week period."

Normally the organization would run between 12 and 14 flights a year — split between the spring and fall. 

This year two flights will be chartered — planes totally filled with veterans. The remainder will have 56 veterans flying commercially. 

They are also a little disappointed. As they began working through the waiting list — which had more than 900 veterans on it — they found about 40 veterans who can no longer make the trip. Those veterans either saw their health decline to a point that travel is no longer viable, or they died in the last 18 months waiting for their flight. 

This fall, starting with a flight Aug. 25, 575 veterans will make the trip. Four of them will be World War II veterans, 27 Korean War veterans and the remainder are those who served in Vietnam. 

"Our youngest, our Vietnam veterans are about 67 but most of them are 75. Our Korean War veterans are about 85 to 87 and our World War II veterans are 91 and 92 years old and older," VanCampen said. "I think it is great that literally sometimes when great-grandchildren are out raising money to send great-grandpa on a free trip."

A qualifying WWII, Korean War, or Vietnam War vet can submit a veteran application at www.kansashonorflight.org for inclusion on flights. 

The honors for veterans on the flight begin at the Wichita airport — photos with the U.S. Flag and a sendoff. Often when they arrived in Baltimore, there was a crowd offering applause. 

Kansas Honor Flight members fold a flag at Fort McHenry..

The group tours the Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial and World War II Memorial. They also visit the Navy and Air Force Memorial and Fort McHenry. Fort McHenry is where the national anthem was written by Francis Scott Key.

All of that is organized by volunteers — from the logistics of flights and tours to seeing to the medical needs of veterans making the trip. And it is all no cost to veterans. 

"The funds to make this happen comes from a grateful public," VanCampen said. 

Some of those volunteers and flight leaders, guardians who assist veterans throughout the trip, pay their own way. The cost to them is more than $800. 

There will be a fund-raising golf tournament at Newton's Sand Creek Station Oct. 4. 

"We have taken a lot of Harvey County veterans and we have gotten a lot of financial support from Newton," VanCampen