By Jacqueline Leeker, Public Affairs SpecialistNovember 1, 2010
FORT BELVOIR, Va. - On any given weekday, Renda Overbo can be found at the AKO Office on Fort Belvoir, as the AKO programmer project manager.
But, during her time off, she and many other Belvoir employees volunteer their time to honor WWII Veterans through Honor Flight Chicago.
Honor Flights recognize WWII veterans with a day of honor, remembrance and celebration from a proud and grateful nation, at no cost to them, completely through volunteers who work to fulfill the dreams of veterans to visit "their" memorials in Washington, D.C.
With Overbo's help, several Belvoir volunteers from DeWitt Army Community Hospital and Criminal Investigation Division arrived at Dulles International Airport Tuesday morning to spend the day with more than 90 WWII Veterans.
The veterans were greeted before they even got off the plane with a water arch from the airport fire department, an honor not often bestowed.
As the Veterans left the plane they were greeted by a deafening roar of applause and cheers as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and volunteers shook their hand and thanked each Veteran for their service, providing a true hero's welcome.
Tears lined the Veterans' faces and the faces of those who greeted them.
After arrival, each veteran is then paired with a volunteer, called a guardian.
"I can't believe these young military folks and volunteers took the time to spend with us," said WWII Veteran Douglas Kepplinger, who was drafted into the Army and specialized in Morse Code.
The group made a stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial, toured the World War II Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Korean War Memorial and had a special tour to see the Enola Gay in the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum.
Throughout the day, WWII Veterans told stories of being drafted, places they were stationed, equipment, buddies, invasions, and their life after the military.
Guardians then escorted Veterans back to the airport to share dinner where they were greeted with music and dancing.
On the flight home, Veterans receive a mail call. Young children from all over the country as well as family members write letters of appreciation and love. The mail call comes as a complete surprise.
And, as a final surprise, the veterans are welcome home by a band, banners, and surprise visits from family members greeting them with open arms.
Leaving the airport and heading back to Fort Belvoir, several of the Soldiers who volunteered looked back at the day reflecting on the emotions the day brought.
A couple of Soldiers mentioned how the day was not only a way to honor veterans, but a healing process for themselves. It was a way to honor their own grandparents who served in WWII who they didn't have an opportunity to say goodbye to or take them to the memorial themselves.
Since the inaugural Honor Flight in May 2005, more than 35,000 veterans have been transported to Washington, D.C. through the network.
According to Honor Flight, based on recent 2008 statistics, we are losing World War II Veterans at the rate of approximately 1,000 per day.
Tuesday was the last Honor Flight Chicago for this year.
"From April through October, a flight comes in about once every three weeks, and I'm always looking for volunteers," Overbo said.
"Volunteers need to be able to push wheel-chairs, and be 18 to 64 years old. Military are encouraged to participate, but any strong, able-bodied person is welcome."
People interested in volunteering for Honor Flight Chicago can contact Renda Overbo at Rendaoverbo@aol.com. More information on Honor Flights is available from honorflightchicago.org.