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Honoring our nation's heroes -- Local program brings U.S. war veterans to D.C.

May 25, 2016
Melissa Schneider - Editor (mschneider@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

For most military veterans (especially those who are reaching that golden age), the thought of visiting our nation's capitol to pay tribute is out of reach. But with the help of a local organization called Collier County Honor Flight, that trip is now very, very possible. Longtime island resident Paula Towell was happy to be a guardian to her father, Fred, WWII U.S. Navy veteran, stationed on the U.S.S. Irwin in the Philippines (1941-45), during their trip to Washington, D.C. Saturday.

"It was unbelievable. The reception these veterans received throughout the day was just amazing it was so humbling," Paula said. "Before taking off at RSW, a memorial ceremony was held on the plane, honoring our veterans, POWs and MIA soldiers. Very moving."

Sixty seven WW2, Vietnam and Korean War military veterans, along with their guardians, were all flown out of RSW early Saturday morning for the one-day trip. All expenses were covered, from the flight to the charter buses, to the snacks, lunches and drinks.

Article Photos

Mr. Fred Towell, WWII U.S. Navy veteran, stationed on the U.S.S. Irwin in the Philippines (1941-45), with his daughter, Paula, on the left, and a lovely WWII-dressed fan on the right. Photo courtesy PAULA TOWELL.

"Literally hundreds of people were lined up in the airports to see us off, to greet us in D.C. and then to welcome us home when we returned at 10 p.m. that night," Paula said. "People were all dressed up, dancing the jitterbug you should have seen the amounts of people bands, cheerleaders, ROTC guys, children, girl scouts, everyone lining up shaking these veterans' hands. It was unbelievable. I was tearing up the whole time."

While in the nation's capitol, the group was taken around to tour some of the most meaningful structures and monuments our country has to offer: the WWII Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery to watch the Changing of the Guards, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool, the Vietnam Wall, Korean Memorial and the statue of Iwo Jima, among others.

"It was a long day but completely worth it; it was a wonderful trip. I would recommend anyone doing it because it certainly opens your eyes, gives you a whole new perspective on what our veterans have accomplished and done for this country. And the whole time, my dad is saying, 'Why are they doing all of this for us? I haven't served for so long.' It's just humbling."

Fact Box

About the Collier County Honor Flight program

Collier County Honor Flight's mission is to transport local veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices. The organization was established Sept. 25, 2013 to bring this program to the Southwest Florida area. A very successful inaugural flight took place Nov. 9 that year, just six weeks after forming.

Support for these trips is provided by volunteers and is at no cost to the veterans. Top priority is given to our most senior heroes survivors of WWII and any veteran with a terminal illness who wishes to visit their memorial. The program also extends to our Korean War veterans as space allows. In the future, the program will naturally transition to the Vietnam War and all other veterans who served, on a chronological basis.

"Trips are simply not possible without public support. Prior to the Honor Flight network, many veterans had given up all hope of ever seeing the World War II Memorial. Now they have hope, but time is not on our side. We truly believe that the service of our WWII vets and their sacrifices saved the world from oppression, and this is our very small way of saying, 'thank you.'"

Visit CollierHonorFlight.org to find out more about this wonderful program.

Only in service since 2013, the Collier County Honor Flight has already taken nine tours to D.C., so it's a service offered more than annually. "Please check out the Collier County Honor Flight program, because if you know a veteran, you should take them; they deserve it," Paula said. "Breitling sponsors the whole honor flight, on American Airlines. The veterans are free to go everything is free for them, and it's just a $425 donation for their guardian, again, with everything included: flights, buses, drinks, snacks, sandwiches, food, it's all covered."

The Towell family has been a part of the Fort Myers Beach community since 1964. Paula is a Realtor with Century21 Tri-Power Realty. Her father just celebrated his 89th birthday Monday.

About the Collier County Honor Flight program

Collier County Honor Flight's mission is to transport local veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices. The organization was established Sept. 25, 2013 to bring this program to the Southwest Florida area. A very successful inaugural flight took place Nov. 9 that year, just six weeks after forming.

Support for these trips is provided by volunteers and is at no cost to the veterans. Top priority is given to our most senior heroes survivors of WWII and any veteran with a terminal illness who wishes to visit their memorial. The program also extends to our Korean War veterans as space allows. In the future, the program will naturally transition to the Vietnam War and all other veterans who served, on a chronological basis.

"Trips are simply not possible without public support. Prior to the Honor Flight network, many veterans had given up all hope of ever seeing the World War II Memorial. Now they have hope, but time is not on our side. We truly believe that the service of our WWII vets and their sacrifices saved the world from oppression, and this is our very small way of saying, 'thank you.'"

Visit CollierHonorFlight.org to find out more about this wonderful program.

 
 

 

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