By Georgene Krogman
During the monthly meeting of the American Legion Post 163, members presented a $1,000 check to Gus Gocella, Cumberland County's coordinator for Honor Air Knoxville, which will provide several area veterans an all-expense paid trip April 16 via U.S. Airways chartered flight to tour Washington, D.C.
The highlights of the day will include an opportunity to view all the war memorials and observe the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They will be accompanied by an onboard tour guide explaining the history of the memorials and the Arlington National Cemetery.
Honor Air Knoxville was established in 2007. The original goal was to honor East Tennessee World War II veterans by giving them an opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., and visit the World War II Memorial. In 2009 Honor Air announced flights would also be made available to Korean War veterans extending this opportunity to Middle Tennessee.
Since October 2007, Honor Air Knoxville has taken 15 flights including more than 2,000 Middle and East Tennessee veterans. Eddie Mannis, president of Prestige Cleaners, is chairman of Honor Air Knoxville, and retired Colonel Joe Sutter, USAF, is the flight commander.
Honor Air Knoxville has become a noteworthy project to honor veterans. Businesses volunteer in-kind services including two-way radios, printings and catering. Elementary school children send letters of thanks to the veterans for their courageous service.
Many local people volunteer by bringing balloons, flags and signs to welcome the veterans home from their flight at McGhee Tyson Airport. Local bands provide patriotic music upon the arrival of the veterans. Tremendous coordination with all the support organizations is accomplished by an all-volunteer team. There are many local not-for-profit organizations who contribute to Honor Air Knoxville. Without this community support, these appreciation flights would not be possible.
Locally, Gocella has been involved with this worthwhile project since 2009. The April 16 event will be his eighth flight. He will accompany 20 veterans from Cumberland County along guardian/escorts.
Presenting the check to Gocella was Mildred Ammons, auxiliary treasurer. The monetary donation was made possible as a result of the generosity of area residents who help make the American Legion Auxiliary Post 163 Poppy Drive such a success each year. This generous community support to help veterans is greatly appreciated.
Following the presentation of the check, Gocella shared a video, "A Flight to Remember," along with his heart warming account of the veterans' former visit to Washington, D.C., as guests of Honor Air Knoxville, reminding us that "freedom isn't free. Our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices so that we can continue to enjoy freedom."
Honor Air Knoxville's website is available for viewing videos, photos, stories and testimonies regarding this community-supported project. Mark your calendar for April 16 to welcome the veterans when they return to Knoxville from their flight after spending a memorable day in Washington, D.C.