The flight on Nov. 17 was a day-long experience resulting made possibl by months of work. The result was a memorable experience for Floyd VanDerhoef, who served in both World War II and Korea.
According to Joel Alexander, of Springfield, the Honor Flight program is a grass roots effort active in 33 states, working out of 88 hubs. The southwest Missouri hub, which had its first meeting in August, is the newest. About a dozen people serve on the local board.
The Honor Flight program began in 2005. Charlie Blake, the local group's president, got a DVD about the program from his sister, who is active with the group in the city of Columbia. The idea, to take all veterans to see memorials created to honor their service, prompted an immediate emotional response.
"It's quite a deal," Alexander said, having been intrigued with the idea himself. "It's the least we can do to pay back a debt of gratitude, which for some is long overdue. We're running out of time, particularly with World War II veterans.
"We want to take those within a 120-mile footprint, the World War II veterans first, then we'll do Korea and Vietnam," Alexander said. "We were very fortunate to find three generous underwriters. All the money donated goes to the veterans."
VanDerhoef, who served in the Army from 1940 to 1960, had heard of the program for a couple of his friends with whom he had served in the 12th Armored Division. His daughter-in-law, Gwen, presented him with an application in October. He signed up and was top on the list when the day came.
Because the program deals with older participants, Honor Flight has a medical director who went on the trip. VanDerhoef figured the plane carried 40 wheelchairs provided by St. John's, one of which he used, since the group has to cover a lot of territory. Each honoree had an escort. VanDerhoef's son, Bill, went with him.
KY3 TV was a major underwriter for the flight. Going with the group was anchorman Steve Grant and Jamie Dopp, communications director for the station. Dopp had come to Monett to interview VanDerhoef as the project was taking shape.
Participants arrived at the Springfield airport at 5 a.m. Processing the group took two hours. The flight left around 7 a.m. and took two hours. The group left Dulles International Airport just outside of the nation's capital and headed directly to the World War II memorial.
VanDerhoef had not been to Washington, D.C., since 1955. "Where I parked then you couldn't get to with a vehicle now," he said.
So the modern city and the new memorials were quite new to him.
The sheer size of the World War II memorial was impressive, especially working around the bodies of water. VanDerhoef was told at night the play of lights on the water is particularly impressive.
The group had a box lunch at the memorial then headed to the memorial for the Korean War, located in an area with trees not far from the Lincoln Memorial. While the World War II Memorial was more traditional in its arrangement of monuments, the Korean Memorial is unusual, centered around a series of statues of soldiers on patrol.
"They've done a real good job," VanDerhoef said. "I could tell almost what [the soldiers on patrol] were doing. Everybody was trying to see what it was all about, trying to figure out how they put it together.
"Both memorials were very impressive," VanDerhoef added.
VanDerhoef's group went from the Korean Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery and a stop at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"Arlington is one huge place," VanDerhoef said. "You ride in the bus for 15 or 20 minutes, and you're still in the cemetery. I've seen cemeteries before. I didn't expect anything special. You get sort of a funny feeling when you get there. There are so many graves. A few of the group were wiping their eyes. I didn't quite get that far."
While visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the group came across Elizabeth Dole, former U.S. senator and cabinet member who was out for a stroll. She stopped and talked with members of the group.
A bit more planning went into additional meetings with both U.S. Senator Kit Bond and Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt, who came separately to meet with the Honor Flight contingent.
Evening lights had come on when the group lifted off from Dulles for the return trip to Springfield. The group touched down in Missouri after 10 p.m.
As an additional surprise, around 250 had gathered at the airport to give the veterans a symbolic homecoming greeting. VanDerhoef was the last to get off the plane to face a special reception organized by his daughter-in-law with her church, which is affiliated with the Royal Rangers.
"They had fixed up a bunch of stuff just to welcome me back. They had everything but a band," VanDerhoef said.
The trip made for a long day. VanDerhoef got home after midnight. Nonetheless he viewed it as a good experience.
"A lot of effort went into it. It was appreciated by me and I'm sure everyone else," VanDerhoef said.
To other veterans, VanDerhoef added, "If you get the opportunity, you should go. Everything is taken care of. Just go."
Alexander said there are enough local veterans to take two more flights at least. Priority is being given to the elderly, as well as the critically ill or terminally ill. Alexander expected the next flight would be made in the spring.