FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Many years from now, in the twilight of your life, you may decide to make the trek to Washington, D.C., to visit your war memorial, visit your fallen friends, and reminisce about your days when you fought for freedom. For thousands of World War II veterans, that time is now - and those veterans need your support.
Specifically, Capt. Dale Fitzke, DeWitt Army Community Hospital, wants volunteers to support an Honor Flight mission that takes World War II veterans to their memorial Wednesday.
"Honor Flight volunteers serve as escorts for the veterans, meeting them on the tarmac at the airport, assisting them transferring from plane to bus, assisting them with a steady arm or wheelchair assistance, listening to their stories, helping pass out meals, taking photos, and, at the end of the day, wishing them well as they board their flights home," said Fitzke, event coordinator who has coordinated five previous Honor Flights.
The Honor Flight program is a national organization that brings veterans to Washington, D.C., on a day-long tour of the war memorials.
"Our key focus is to have as many escorts as possible for each flight.
The more escorts we can have here on the ground in D.C. to meet the flights, the more veterans we can put on the planes to visit the memorials. We want to avoid filling a plane with escorts and increase the number of vets who get this opportunity," said Fitzke who is very passionate about the program. "More than 1,000 WWII vets die each day, so, we don't have the time to waste. I need volunteers - this mission will directly impact a veteran and their family."
DeWitt hospital has provided logistical and personnel support for five previous missions.
Staff have been given time to plan the events, some medical equipment has been loaned out to help ensure all of the veterans have proper medical support during the tours, and the hospital leadership encourages personnel to volunteer, Fitzke said.
"Our mission in supporting the Honor Flights is simple. We show up with as many Soldiers and other volunteers as possible, we spend time with great Americans by helping get them on the busses, assist or push their wheelchairs around the monument areas, and to help get them all home again," he said.
Capt. Gladys Williams, DACH, has participated in all five of the Honor Flights supported by the hospital. "I volunteer to help because we owe it to these brave men that paved the way for us," she said. "There was little recognition of their accolades when they returned, but now, they can see their memorial and our gratitude."
Volunteering for this event requires a full day's work that can be physically and emotionally draining, according to Williams, but "it really gives you the feeling of having actually done something that truly means the world to someone."
Larry Wagner, DeWitt and U.S. Army National Guard NCO, believes volunteering is a way of repaying the large amount of gratitude owed to veterans. "Our sacrifices today are mild, in comparison to their sacrifices. We have phones, e-mail, and much more when we deploy. They left their homes and did not come back until the war was over, sometimes years later. I am truly grateful. It is a tearful experience, as well, to see these men and women react to seeing their monuments."
Wagner encourages anyone thinking of volunteering "to give one day to the men and women who gave us yesterday and all of our tomorrows."
Editor's note: Interested volunteers are asked to contact Capt. Dale Fitzke, 703-338-6183. The next opportunity to help veterans is Wednesday. Information about the Honor Flight program is available from honorflight.org.