“It was fabulous.” That’s what the intrepid Don Clark, longtime OLLI day-trip leader, says about his quick trip with 74 other local veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C.
A few times each year, the Honor Flight of West Central Florida charters a plane for one-day trips of appreciation to the nation’s capital.
Each retiree gets to bring an “escort”—and it can’t be a spouse. Don invited his son, who happens to be a retired Navy petty officer. Don loved talking to the other vets, including a family of three brothers who were on the trip.
Don: “There’s nothing in Tampa to equal the magnitude of those memorials. But there are highs and lows. It makes you think what those wars cost in human life. That kind of drags you down.”
The group left early one morning from the St. Pete/Clearwater Airport. They flew to Baltimore, where they boarded chartered buses for the ride to D.C. They had a police escort. “That was fun,” he remembers.
They visited memorials from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Lincoln Memorial and the new Air Force Memorial. Don was particularly touched by the Korean Memorial, with its stainless-steel statues slogging through granite and bushes representing the rugged Korean landscape.
Don had seen most of the monuments in D.C. before, but this trip reminded him of the gravity of war and the honor of serving. He himself never saw combat. He served two years in the Army at Fort Gordon in Georgia after Officers’ Training School in Virginia.
When the group landed back in Florida after a very long but rewarding day, about 500 well-wishers from different organizations greeted them. Some of the women were dressed as Rosie the Riveter and the Andrew Sisters. “I was shocked and pleased,” Don says. “That was greatly appreciated. And I was so pumped up, my family agreed that I was safe enough to drive home.”
The Honor Flight of West Central Florida has as its mission: To transport America’s Veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices. Priority is given to WWII Veterans, along with those other Veterans who may be terminally ill. Our NO COST mission continues as we fly our Korean, Vietnam and all Veterans on future missions. Departure for this one day trip to Washington, D.C. is from the St. Pete – Clearwater International Airport (PIE).
The organizers and flight crew make extraordinary efforts to connect with the veterans on the flight and honor their service. You can see them in action on an Honor Flight here.
Don Clark is OLLI’s Day Trip leader and offers an exciting lineup of local tours every semester. Day trips are free and open to OLLI members and their guests. Advance registration is required for each tour. Walk-ins cannot be accepted. You can find a list of this semester’s trips on page 6 of the Fall 2019 OLLI-USF Course Catalog or on our web site.
Don’s interviewer, Linda Schatz, retired from a writing and editing career, but still loves writing for the OLLI course catalog. She also volunteers for Head Start and for RESULTS, a non-partisan citizens lobby to create the political will to end poverty. She and her husband Ken lived in their RV for five years before moving to Tampa in 2008.