After Merced resident Dan Child participated in the Central Valley Honor Flight in 2014, it became a highlight that he describes as “one of the greatest trips I ever had.”
For many Valley veterans who served in World War II and the Korean War, the trips to Washington, D.C., to see war memorials and historical monuments have been a treasured experience.
“I saw monuments and places I’ve never seen before,” said Child, who turns 100 years old next month and was the oldest veteran on the plane.
But now, the organization behind the trips is struggling to raise money for its last scheduled trip in October and needs about $180,000 to make it possible.
Child served in the Navy at the end of World War II in the special devices division, troubleshooting radio issues for airplanes.
The trip to Washington was an honor, he said.
“They made us feel superior,” he said. “We were never in the back seat. I shared it with everybody I knew.”
On Wednesday, Channel 26 (KMPH) and radio station KMJ held fundraisers at American Legion posts in Fresno and Visalia in hopes of sending about 70 more veterans to D.C.
The Central Valley Honor Flight officially began its efforts in 2013 to send World War II and Korean War veterans on fully paid trips to see war memorials and other monuments in the nation’s capital, said Al Perry, a tour leader and veteran.
Initially, the goal was to get as many of the Valley’s roughly 5,000 WWII and Korean War veterans to D.C. as possible.
September will mark the project’s 10th flight, which overall has sent more than 500 veterans and their chosen “guardians” on a jet with a medical and safety team. The trip also requires three charter buses and about 80 hotel rooms. Each trip costs about $180,000.
“When we first started, many folks said we would never raise enough money for two trips, and here we are at our 10th trip,” Perry said.
In all, the project has raised about $1.8 million, mostly from individual donors and small businesses.
“That’s a staggering figure in this Valley,” Perry said. “None of that money has come from huge corporations.”
Over time, though, donations slowly have dwindled. Last September the Honor Flight for the first time had to cancel a trip because of a lack of funding.
The Honor Flight’s board feared the same thing for this coming September. Luckily, enough money was raised. Now the October trip is up in the air.
“But, given the fundraisers (by KMPH and KMJ), I feel confident we’ll have enough for an October trip,” Perry said Wednesday.
In February, the Honor Flight board voted to make this year’s October flight the last one conducted under the current board. The decision was made mostly because of the slowdown in donations, Perry said. Since the infrastructure for the project is in place, if others want to take it over, there is a possibility for future Honor Flights, he said.
Child’s wife, Ellen, said the year after he went on the trip the couple (who jokingly call themselves the “Children” instead of the Childs) donated to the project. Ellen urged others who have been on the trip to help make it possible for those who haven’t.
“Please, donate so others can enjoy the flight,” she said.
Stan Lung, an 86-year-old Bass Lake resident, hopes to take the Honor Flight to the nation’s capital in October and closely monitored the fundraisers on Wednesday.
“A lot of old people can’t make the journey to Washington, D.C.,” Lung said. “It’s almost impossible for an old person to board a plane. I’m too old now to travel on a road trip. It’s basically now or never.”
Lung served in the Navy on a minesweeper and an auxiliary rescue ship in Korea from 1948-52.
Lung first expressed interest in participating in an Honor Flight last year, and his daughter and son-in-law, Debbie and Dan Nance, submitted an application for him. He received his acceptance letter in the mail.
Debbie Nance said the trip is the only thing her father’s talked about for months.
“I thought it was a great thing,” Lung said. “I wasn’t expecting to get the letter in the mail. I’d like to see the monuments before I’ve got no chance left.”
To donate, visit cvhonorflight.org on the Central Valley Honor Flight’s website.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477