HANNIBAL | The Great River Honor Flight has been temporarily put on hold in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the national Honor Flight office announced all flights would be postponed until 2021 — with officials planning to resume flights when it's deemed safe.
Great River Board of Directors made the announcement Tuesday, June 9. GRHF is the Tri-States' hub for the Honor Flight program, and has flown 1,855 local veterans to memorials, monuments and other patriotic destinations in Washington, D.C. GRHF plans to resume a full slate of six flights for 2021 — the same as in past years — resuming with flight 58.
Several factors related to the coronavirus contributed to the decision to cancel flights this year, including limited flight schedules, restrictions on the number of people, social distancing guidelines and changing schedules at monuments. Carlos Fernandez, chairman of the GRHF, said the difficult decision came down to ensuring everyone's safety.
“Our number one concern has always been on the safety of the veterans we honor on these missions,” Fernandez said. “While visiting the memorials has been a big part of these trips, so has the endless welcome and goodwill that the veterans receive from total strangers throughout their special day. The many restrictions and precautions, that are still very much in effect throughout the U.S. due to the virus, impacts the way the Honor Flights can be scheduled. After carefully reviewing all options, the board felt it was in everyone's best interest to allow time for the current situation to improve and to ensure that everything that is done,is done to maintain the safety of our veterans that we so greatly respect.”
The Great River Honor Flight includes visits to destinations like the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial,ArlingtonNational Cemetery, Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Jess Ornelas, hall rental trustee at American Legion Post 55, said he has helped about a dozen fellow veterans submit paperwork to join the Great River Honor Flight, including efforts to raise funds so the grandsons of Al Hoskins and the late Charlie Terrell could accompany their grandfathers as guardians. Ornelas is eager for a future chance to take the flight himself, and he remembered the emotional reaction from the late Russell Maple when he returned from the flight with guardian Ralph Brinkley.
“He cried coming off the bus,” Ornelas said. “He said,'Jess,I am sure glad that you talked me into going to this. I was overwhelmed.' And he said it brought back a lot of memories.”
Jim Miller echoed the sentiment that the Great River Honor Flight is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and a great chance for camaraderie with fellow veterans. He had been to Washington, D.C. several times prior to his trip on the Great River Honor Flight, including chances to place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and lay a memorial stone on Memorial Drive in honor of all of the Vietnam helicopter pilots and crew chiefs who lost their lives. He remembered it took some coercion from family members to fill out the application at first, but he was happy he got the chance to take the trip with his oldest, son, Sam. They shared the experience with his youngest son, Kevin, who lives in the area and met them at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Miller encourages fellow veterans to register for the Great River Honor Flight to be a part of a future trip.
“It was a tremendous opportunity and I really enjoyed it,” Miller said. “To have all of the folks, especially in Baltimore at the airport, meet us as we came off the plane — as I recall, all the services had representatives there in uniform — and greeting us all and congratulating us, it was tremendous and a wonderful opportunity,” Miller said. “I wouldn't have missed it, and I encourage all of my fellow veterans who haven't gone to put their application in and go.”