ESCANABA, Mich. (WJMN) – Following a two year hiatus due to COVID, the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight returned in 2022, bringing three groups of veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit many of the city’s monuments dedicated to members of the Armed Forces. For U.P. Honor Flight President Scott Knauf, deciding 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,” said Knauf.
“I became eligible, and I thought ‘Im going!’. I want to see Washington, D.C. because the last time I was there, you were not treated very well,” said Joan Smith, Honor Flight XVIII attendee. “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 veterans who attend, 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,” said Knauf. “Honor Flight is a trip of healing, it’s not a family vacation to go see the memorials.”
“I mean you think of your own experience,” said Bruce Waananen, Honor Flight XIX attendee. “You think of the people that went before you, and all the monuments, what they’re there for. So I mean, it’s kind of a wide area you think about, not only your own, but everybody else’s, what they sacrificed.”
For some attendee, making the trip with a group of fellow veteran differentiate the experience from one with friends and family.
“I think it was probably nicer going with other GIs,” said Keith Blom, Honor Flight XX attendee. “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,” said Smith. “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, all agreed, if you have the chance to go on the trip, take it.
“I’ve been telling other vets, I say, ‘Sign up and go.’ Some of them say, ‘Eh, I don’t wanna go.’ I say, ‘Geez, you should.’ It’s really worthwhile going on it,” said Waananen. “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, D.C.,” said Blom. “I mean, you see pictures of it and they are traveling to the wall of the Vietnam Wall here, but to actually go there and see the Capitol and the memorials for all the veterans that have served is quite impressive.”
“I’m just very thankful that the people come together and work together and put this on,” said Knauf. “And it just benefits our community so much, and I’m so thankful for people helping out.”
For more information on the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight, click here.