ESCANABA, Mich. (WJMN) – Following a 2-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight returned in 2022, bringing 3 groups of Veterans to Washington D.C. to visit many of the city’s monuments dedicated to members of the armed forces.

For UP honor flight president Scott Knauf, the decision to resume the flights meant the opportunity to share the good news with Vets, many of whom had been on a waitlist for years.

“It was exciting that we were able to start calling people and say ‘We are going, this is the date for your flight, are you able to come with us?’ And they would get very excited after we made that phone call to them.”

While a normal year for the UP Honor Flight involves two trip to the nation’s capital, 2022 included a trip in May and two in September following the extended pause.

“I became eligible and I thought ‘I’m going!’ I want to see Washington D.C. because the last time I was there, you were not treated very well,” said Joan Smith, an attendee of Honor Flight XVIII in May. “You know, people were throwing stuff and calling you ‘baby killer’ and all this kind of stuff. And I thought ‘Nah, I need to go back and see how it’s changed’. And I’m glad I did!”

For many Vets who attend an Honor Flight, the experience goes beyond an opportunity to visit as a tourist, and can often serve as a time of reflection.

“It is different going on an Honor Flight rather than just a family vacations, and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand,” Knauf said. “Honor Flight is a trip of healing, it’s not a family vacation to go see the memorials.”

“Everything. I mean you think of your own experience, you think of the people that went before you, and all the monuments, what they’re there for,” said Bruce Waananen, an attendee of Honor Flight XIX in September. “So, I mean, it’s kind of a wide area you think about, not only your own, but everybody else, what they sacrificed.”

For some attendees, making the trip with a group of fellow veterans can differentiate the experience from one with friends or family.

“I think it was probably nicer going with other GIs,” said Keith Blom, an attendee of Honor Flight XX in September. “Most of the GIs, well I’d say all of them, were very friendly, no matter who you were sitting next to or whatever. At the dining table or at the airport waiting, everybody was very friendly.”

“They understand what everybody went through,” Smith said. “They understand how you lived, what was going on at that time. They don’t care what branch of service you were in. They don’t care whether you’re male or female. You served, you did your time, you did what was right.”

While each veteran comes away from the day of the flight with different takeaways and perspectives, a common theme in those who speak about their experience is that if you have the opportunity to be part of a mission, take it.

“I’ve been telling other vets, I say ‘sign up and go’,” Waananen said. “Some of them say ‘Eh, I don’t want to go’. I say ‘Geez, you should’. It’s really worthwhile going on it. That’s great for what they do, you can’t give them enough credit.”

“Being in the Upper peninsula, there may be a lot of people that have never had the whereby means to actually travel to Washington DC,” Blom said. “I mean you see pictures of it and they had the traveling wall of the Vietnam wall here, but to actually go there and see the capital and the memorials for all the Veterans that have served is quite impressive.”

While the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight will return to its normal two-flight schedule in 2023, the organization is always thankful for community support. You can keep up to date with the UP Honor Flight on the organization’s website or Facebook page.

“I’m just very thankful that the people come together and work together and put this on,” Knauf said. “And it just benefits our community so much, and I’m so thankful for people helping out.”