Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

October 18, 2013

Honor Air Flight 15 goes on despite government shutdown

CROSSVILLE — A group of World War II and Korean War veterans left Cumberland County early the morning of Oct. 9, heading east to Knoxville and, ultimately, Washington, DC. They were to be part of HonorAir Knoxville’s 15th flight, which takes veterans of these two wars to visit the memorials built to honor their sacrifices.

But this flight was a little different than previous flights. The government shutdown had began Oct. 1, and there was concern the trip might be cancelled, as many of the memorials had been closed. But a decision was made that the flight must go on.

Gus Gocella, who is the Cumberland County representative for Honor Air and a guardian on flights, said the group had a terrific time, with no problems accessing the memorials. The week before, members of Congress had pushed aside barriers to allow another group of veterans to visit the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. Afterwards, the National Park Service said it would allow access to World War II veterans, though the memorial remained closed to the general public. The shutdown ended Oct. 16.

When the HonorAir Knoxville flight landed in Knoxville the evening of Oct. 9, the organization successfully completed 15 flights taking more than 1,600 East Tennessee World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington D.C. to see the memorials built to honor their sacrifices. HonorAir Knoxville is a program established and presented by Prestige Cleaners to honor veterans. Covenant Health has been a major sponsor of each of the flights taken to date. 

More than 125 East Tennessee World War II and Korean War veterans traveled on this most recent flight. Scouts from the Smoky Mountain Council were on hand to greet veterans and escort them as they arrived at the airport in the morning. After walking through an Honor Guard from the Knoxville Military Entrance Processing Station, the veterans received a send-off at McGhee Tyson Airport in which Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett participated. 

The group was welcomed home by about 800 people eager to thank the veterans for their service. As they walked through red, white and blue balloon arches, veterans were greeted by patriotic music provided by the Central High School Marching Band and the sight of American flags waving.

The one-day, all expense paid trip via a US Airways chartered flight includes tours of the World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Marine and Air Force Memorials.  In addition, the group saw the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Eddie Mannis, president of Prestige Cleaners and Deputy Mayor of Knoxville is Chairman of HonorAir Knoxville, retired Colonel Joe Sutter, US Air Force is the Flight Commander and Jim Cundall is the Flight Coordinator.  Forty volunteer escorts flew to assist the veterans.

According to Mannis, “It is an honor for my company to participate in this program. These veterans made a great sacrifice for their country and we are proud to honor this group of special people.”

Sixteen million Americans served in World War II. Now there are less than a million veterans alive.  According to national statistics we are losing these men and women at a rate of 2,000 a day. The Korean War is often referred to as the “forgotten war.”  However, more than 36,000 Americans lost their lives in this global conflict. Many veterans of these two wars have never seen the World War II and Korean War Memorials so one of HonorAir Knoxville’s goals is to take as many area veterans as possible on these special flights.

Another HonorAir Knoxville flight is planned for the Spring of 2014. However, according to Mannis, future flights will be dependent on the level of funding the program receives from the community.  “Each flight costs about $60,000. Although our major sponsors and Prestige donate substantial amounts of money to the program we need additional donations to make the flights a reality. Prestige also provides all the administrative support to the program so every dollar raised is applied directly to the cost of the flight.” said Mannis. 

HonorAir is a 501(c)3 organization so all donations are tax deductible. Anyone wishing to support the program should send checks to HonorAir Knoxville, 7536 Taggart Lane, Knoxville, TN 37938.  Donations can also be made via PayPal on the HonorAir website at honorairknoxville.com.

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