By Kari Hawkins, Redstone Rocket StaffMarch 11, 2009
They may not be wearing red, white and blue, but golfers teeing off in the Tennessee Valley Honor Flight Golf Tournament on April 24 will be displaying their patriotism in all its glorious colors.
After all, there's nothing more patriotic than lending a helping hand to a World War II veteran who wants to fulfill a dream of visiting their war memorial in Washington, D.C.
Golfers playing in the April 24 tournament at the Links at Redstone Arsenal will indeed be lending that hand by participating in the first-ever Honor Flight golfing fund-raiser organized and sponsored by a Redstone Arsenal organization. The AMCOM Security Assistance Management Directorate has stepped up to make this fund-raiser a success in providing much-needed financial assistance to Tennessee Valley Honor Flight.
"We've had two Honor Flight-sponsored golf tournaments, but this is the first major golf tournament sponsored by a Redstone organization," said Joe Fitzgerald, president of Tennessee Valley Honor Flight. "We can't tell you how happy we are that an organization like SAMD has stepped up to spearhead a major fund-raiser for Honor Flight.
"We've had other Redstone organizations sponsor fund-raisers for us, such as TMDE, which raised money for Honor Flight at their organization day last fall, and Vettes for Vets, which will sponsor a car show at Bridge Street this April 18 as a fund-raiser. We would love other organizations to step up and sponsor a fund-raising event because Honor Flight is in definite need of funds."
Since launching the Honor Flight program in early 2007, 629 veterans have been flown to Washington, D.C. free of charge to visit their WW II memorial and to spend an entire day in the nation's capitol, during which they also visit Arlington Cemetery and the Marine Corps memorial. In 2009, three chartered flights - beginning with the first on April 25 - will take another 375 veterans to see their memorial. Each Honor Flight costs just over $100,000 or between $800 and $1,000 per veteran.
"We've collected sufficient funds for the April flight," Fitzgerald said. "But we are way behind on funds for the Sept.12 and Oct. 24 flights. Funding is extremely critical because we have to have the funds in hand before we can finalize arrangements for the flights. Those funds have to be available 120 days out from the actual flight date. We've got to raise money and we've got to raise it fast."
SAMD hopes funds raised from the April 24 golf tournament will help to secure the two fall Honor Flights. SAMD's events committee has had success in the past with sponsoring events that have raised funds for worthwhile organizations.
"We did a Combined Federal Campaign golf tournament last fall," said Gena Scofield, chairman of the SAMD events committee. "It was so successful. Our director (Dr. Tom Pieplow) and our deputy director (Dan Parker) wanted us to do something to raise funds for Honor Flight. So we decided on another golf tournament because it's a fun way to raise money."
The tournament will include 54 teams, for a total of 216 golfers who will play in a traditional four-man scramble tournament.
"Everybody is talking about it right now," said Liz Preston, vice chairman of the SAMD events committee. "A lot of advertisement has been word of mouth. We are going to definitely fill up our teams."
The day is being organized with a lot of fun in mind. Check-in will begin at 7:30 a.m., followed by breakfast and a shotgun start at 9. A barbecue lunch will be served and post tournament awards will be presented about mid-afternoon for the longest drive, hole-in-one, closest to the pin and best overall score. There will also be prizes for the top three teams.
"It's going to be a real exciting tournament," Preston said. "The CFC tournament was a lot of fun and the atmosphere was just great. We plan to do that again with this tournament."
Tournament registration is $100 per golfer before April 1 and $125 per golfer after that deadline. In addition, hole sponsorships are $200 and golf cart sponsorships are $100.
"With the sponsorship, the company or organization will get their name or branch on a sign along with their logo. The sign will be posted at the beginning of a hole or on the golf cart," Preston said.
The April 24 golf tournament has been scheduled for the day before the first Honor Flight of 2009. After a day of golfing, participants are invited to Signature Aviation at Huntsville International Airport for a 5 p.m. flag ceremony that will include involvement of fighter planes and pilots from the Alabama Air National Guard. During the ceremony, the flags of deceased WW II veterans will be transferred from veteran families to Honor Flight officials to be transported to Washington, D.C. on April 25 and featured in a special flag ceremony at the WW II memorial.
Golf tournament participants are also invited to Huntsville International Airport at about 8:30 p.m. on April 25 to welcome returning veterans home from their Honor Flight.
"There are many things that make an Honor Flight unique, and one of those are the people who welcome veterans at Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C. and who welcome them home at the end of the day," Fitzgerald said.
"These veterans are so humble. They will tell you 'I was just doing my duty' and 'I don't expect any thanks.' They don't expect, especially at this late in life, to be thanked for, literally, saving a nation. They don't understand or know how to accept our appreciation. But they deserve it."
Since the Tennessee Valley Honor Flight program was first launched, Fitzgerald said the local community has been very supportive during numerous fund-raising efforts.
"We've gotten a lot of support. But when we started this, we didn't know how many flights we would take," he said.
"This program has become quite popular with veterans. We had four flights in 2008 and took 500 veterans to their memorial. We thought that with those flights we'd get all the veterans. As it turns out, with every flight there is more publicity of the program and more veterans who tell us they want to go. And we still have a backlog."
It is important, Fitzgerald said, that enough funds are raised to take WW II veterans to their memorial as soon as possible. He hopes most of these veterans get that opportunity in 2009.
"Any program like this does have an expiration date because these folks are leaving us," he said. "We are losing between 1,200 and 1,500 every day. There are less than 2.5 million World War II veterans still alive. In seven years, they will all be gone.
"This is one the most rewarding things I've ever done, and it's been the most difficult and challenging. When veterans finally get to the point where their name comes up on the list for an Honor Flight, we find that some are now deceased or they are too ill to go."
Priority for an Honor Flight is given to those who are critically ill and who are 90 years old or older. The application date is also considered.
"But the number one consideration is that the veteran has never seen their memorial," Fitzgerald said. "There are a lot of World War II veterans who haven't seen their memorial because it was built nearly 60 years after the war."
Once the 2009 flights are complete, Fitzgerald said plans will be made to sponsor Honor Flight trips for Korean War veterans.
"After this year, we will be taking mixed flights of Korean War veterans and any World War II veterans who haven't gone," he said. "Our mission is to take any veterans that want to go and who have not seen the memorial built in their honor. Honor Flight makes it possible for veterans at such an advanced age to see their memorial."
Upcoming dates for Honor Flight include an orientation today for the April 25 flight, and an Honor Flight and WW II alumni event on June 6, which will be the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
"It will be a day of recognition," said Fitzgerald, who will announce more details of the June 6 event in upcoming months.
Questions about the Tennessee Valley Honor Flight Golf Tournament can be directed to Scofield at 975-6952 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and to Preston at 876-4960 or email@example.com. Registration forms and entry fees should be mailed to Liz Preston, P.O. Box 4535, Huntsville, 35815 (make checks payable to Liz Preston). For more information about Honor Flight or to volunteer or make a donation, visit its website at www.honorflight.net.