FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo., Nov. 8, 2011 -- Master Sgt. Tony Gifford, rear detachment S-3 sergeant major for the 92nd Military Police Battalion here, received an unusual Christmas gift from his wife, Shari, in 2010. It was a chance for Gifford to be an Honor Flight guardian and to take a World War II Navy veteran to see the war memorials in Washington D.C. through the Honor Flight program.

Shari Gifford said she got the idea from a commercial she had seen on TV, and after talking it over with her husband, she completed the online application.

Veterans travel for free, but guardians are required to pay for their flights. In this case, the trip sponsored by the Ozarks Honor Flight departing from Springfield, Mo., to Washington, D.C., cost $300.

Guardians are also required to attend two briefings prior to the Honor Flight trip which lasts all day.

"The trip was not about me; it was about my veteran, Bill. It was a great honor to assist Bill, a Navy veteran who served our country in World War II, in getting to see the memorial that was built to honor him," Gifford said. "He would have never gotten to see it if it was not for this program. I would encourage anyone, especially a Soldier, to go and do this."

Gifford arrived at the Springfield-Branson National Airport at 5 a.m., Oct. 26, to meet the veterans who would be part of the 13th mission for the Ozarks Honor Fligh -- a regional hub for the Honor Flight Network.

According to the Honor Flight Network, "Even before the veterans arrive at the airport, the guardian's responsibilities begin with flight preparation and going over their packets of material. Once the veterans start to arrive, guardians will ensure boarding passes and IDs are available, distribute Honor Flight Network tee shirts, get the veterans through security and to the gate, and assist in boarding."

After landing in Washington D.C., the group went to the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam and Korean War Veterans memorials, the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery to observe the Changing of the Guard ritual. The group made one final stop to the U.S. Air Force Memorial and caught a flight for home the same day.

Veterans received a welcome home from family and friends upon their return to the Springfield-Branson National Airport and their arrival was covered in real-time by KY3 News during the station's 10 p.m. newscast. Shari Gifford attended the welcome home at the airport and commented that the gathering of veterans itself was truly inspiring.

Because flights are limited and backlogged for veterans who wish to make the Honor Flight, spouses and family members are typically not able to accompany Honor Flight veterans.

"It is always humbling to meet anyone that has given so much to our country," Gifford said. "It is sad at the same time since the World War II veterans are getting into their 80s and 90s, and you know there is not much time left on this earth for them. I learned that we have to make sure and honor all those that came before us while we still can, whether they are World War II veterans or veterans of any of the wars that have followed."

The 14th mission and the last Ozarks Honor Flight for 2011 is set to take place on Nov. 15. The public is invited to welcome veterans home from their journey at the Springfield - Branson National Airport. Arrival time is scheduled to allow for live coverage at 10 p.m. on KY3.

The Ozarks Honor Flight, in two short years, has taken more than 1,000 veterans to see the World War II Memorial.

By the end of the 2010 flying season in November, the Honor Flight Network transported more than 63,000 veterans.

The Honor Flight Network recognizes American veterans for their sacrifices and achievements by flying them to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial at no cost. Top priority is given to World War II and terminally ill veterans from all wars.

In the future, the Honor Flight Network is expected to expand to include Korean and Vietnam War veterans. In order for the Honor Flight Network to achieve this goal, guardians fly with the veterans on every flight providing assistance and helping veterans have a safe, memorable and rewarding experience.

The inaugural Honor Flight took place in May of 2005. Six small planes flew out of Springfield, Ohio taking 12 World War II veterans on a visit to the memorial in Washington, D.C. The Honor Flight Network program was created by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain.

Additional information about the non-profit Honor Flight Network can be found online at www.honorflight.org/.

Page last updated Wed November 9th, 2011 at 11:50