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WINCHESTER, Ky. (AP) — In a story Sept. 6 about veterans visiting Washington, D.C., to see memorials, The Associated Press reported erroneously the title of the man who came up with the idea of Honor Flight. Earl Morse was a physician assistant, not a physician's assistant.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Veterans to be flown from Kentucky to Washington memorials
Honor flight: 72 veterans to be flown from Kentucky to Washington DC to visit memorials
By STEVE FOLEY
The Winchester Sun
WINCHESTER, Ky. (AP) — George Campbell has spent 33 years in the military community.
Eight of those years were served in uniform and the rest have been in a civilian capacity. The former operations officer who now volunteers with veterans groups including the VA and Sixth Congressional District Veterans Coalition is proud of what the United States military has done for him throughout his life.
A Cincinnati native, Campbell is now proud to be an Honor Flight Bluegrass Ambassador, as for the first time Honor Flight Bluegrass will fly 72 veterans from Blue Grass Airport in Lexington to Washington D.C. for a one-day, all expenses paid trip to visit the memorials Saturday, Sept. 26, that have been built to honor their service and sacrifices.
Of those 72 veterans, seven Winchester veterans including Roy Bates, Harvey Embry, Richard Garrett, Charles Guckin, Rexford Johnson, Kenneth McIntosh and Coleman Hatton are expected to board a U.S. Airways Airbus A320 along with 72 guardians, two doctors — including state Sen. Ralph Alvarado — two nurses and a pair of television crews.
Conducted in partnership with Kentucky's Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, which includes East Kentucky Power Cooperative, the Honor Flight program is a way for communities to come together and say, "Thank you, and welcome home," Campbell said.
"I ran across some friends who were working the Honor Flight up in Washington when I was up there once," Campbell said. "I saw it and got hooked on it. It was one of those situations where you have to see the looks on their faces and you just feel you want to become part of it."
The Honor Flight day is a complete one, as veterans will check in at the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington at 6 a.m. and will begin boarding the plane at 7:30 a.m. before takeoff at 8 a.m. The plane is scheduled to arrive at Reagan International Airport at 9:30 a.m.
From there, veterans and a guardian (taken from the term guardian angel) will visit the World War II Memorial, Korean/Vietnam Memorial, Arlington Memorial and Iwo Jima Memorial before flying back to Lexington where they'll be greeted with a "Welcome Home" celebration.
The original Honor Flight took place in 2005 as six single-engine aircrafts left Springfield, Ohio, with 12 veterans. Now, Honor Flight has expanded to 135 hubs or chapters spread across the country.
"It's been going strong since the (Bluegrass) chapter has been formed," Campbell said. "To this date, we've flown close to 150,000 veterans free of charge to Washington D.C. and have flown them back. Louisville as of December has flown close to 1,800 from Kentucky."
Honor Flight began behind the idea of Earl Morse, a physician assistant at a VA hospital in Springfield, Ohio, who asked if any of his patients had seen their memorials. Many answered him with tears in their eyes they did not have the funds, they didn't want to or simply couldn't travel alone.
From those conversations came an idea: Morse would take them.
That idea has now grown in the size here in Kentucky and now three missions are part of Honor Flight Bluegrass — May 16 flown out of Louisville, June 6 flown out of Louisville and Sept. 26 out of Lexington.
"We've been recruiting since January into central and eastern Kentucky to make the veterans aware this is their memorial and this is their right to go," Campbell said. "We want to make it happen for them."
Each of the 72 veterans will be joined by a guardian, who'll help if they need a bottle of water, a photo taken or simply needs someone to talk to.
Sha Collier, marketing and brand supervisor at East Kentucky Power Cooperative, will be serving her fourth Honor Flight next month.
"This is one of their best days of their lives," Collier said. "I hear someone say each flight that this is one of their best days of their lives. You hear that and it's so special."
Collier said she's proud Touchstone Energy Cooperatives — a group of 16 not-for-profit electric utilities which serves 1 million Kentuckians across 87 counties — sponsors the flight as their commitment to community. Clark Energy is among the Touchstone cooperatives.
Touchstone Energy Cooperative is also sponsoring an Honor Flight Facebook page, where family members of veterans may track the day's events online.
"We're excited to be part of the first flight out of Lexington," Collier said. "What better way to serve the community than to thank the veterans who did so much and made so many sacrifices."
Other Winchester guardians who are scheduled to take part in the flight include Sandy Stults of the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, Jason Luring and Mike Busby of Catalent Pharma Solutions and Todd Peyton of Touchstone Energy.
"The flights I've been on become an amazing metamorphosis if you will," Campbell said. "To see these gentlemen come together in an airport terminal and in 10 to 12 hours, they're slapping each other on the back, they're kidding each other because they've bonded.
"A lot of these men find out they've been in the same places around the same time and they knew the same people."
Campbell added if you're aboard the flight and don't cry, there's something wrong.
"You learn so much about the veterans," Campbell said. "We're very fortunate to have seven men from Winchester and they all have some very interesting stories to tell. I was talking with Roy Bates and he made the comment when I asked him why he wants to go, 'I'm a Korean War veteran, on that wall is my battle buddy's name and I want to see it.' The reasons are varied for each person, but almost all of them look back in reflection and they want to reconnect with people that didn't come back."
When the veterans return from their trip later Saturday evening, a "Welcome Home" celebration is set from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m., where the public is encouraged to come to the Blue Grass Airport and cheer for and greet the veterans upon their return.
"Last year we did a partial flight out of Lexington with 30 men and over 800 people welcomed them back," Campbell said. "This year, I wouldn't be surprised if there were more than 2,500 people."
Keeneland will serve as a parking lot for excess traffic, while shuttle service will be available.
"We're very hopeful this becomes a recurring event," Campbell said. "We're down to under 1,000 World War II veterans in the state of Kentucky. They're passing away at a rapid rate and the Korean War veterans are not that far behind. The urgency is the faster we can get them up there, the better.
"We want to make this a perfect day for them and make sure they're appreciated."
Campbell also lauded the generosity of Alvarado, who'll serve both as a flight doctor and guardian.
"He is an outstanding American that has graciously taken time from his medical practice and his duties as a state Senator to spend a day with a veteran and to be there for all the veterans and guardians on the flight should a medical need arise," Campbell said.
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