The final Land of Lincoln Honor Flight for this season will depart from Springfield Airport early Tuesday morning, carrying what could possibly be a milestone for Jacksonville.
Volunteer board member and Veteran Coordinator for Land of Lincoln Honor Flight, Steve Wheeler, says they are privileged to have a World War II combat veteran attending from the Jacksonville area, 97-year-old Tom Holmes.
Wheeler says Mr. Holmes’ attendance on the flight could possibly be the end of an era for the Jacksonville area. “I don’t know of any other World War II combat Vets in Jacksonville at this point. There probably is, and I just haven’t run across them.
But yes, this could be one of the last ones we take on the flight being from the Jacksonville Area. I think it’s something the community needs to know. I know the market there in Jacksonville and the surrounding area pretty well, and I don’t know of any other combat Vets from WWII who are left in this Jacksonville area. We’ve just almost lost them all at this point.
There are some younger ones who enlisted after the bomb was dropped at Nagasaki, but as far as a true combat veteran, I think Mr. Holmes could be the last from the Jacksonville area.”
Wheeler says the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight is a non-profit that takes veterans on a one-day trip to Washington D.C. for a bus tour. “The Land of Lincoln Honor Flight serves the most senior veterans we have, which is World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
We have flown 69 flights out of Springfield now, and almost 6,000 veterans from out of the Springfield hub.”
The flight is a one-day flight and they are always free to our veterans. The main fundraising is actually the community. The community takes their Vets through donations and fundraising events, and things like that.”
The flight leaves around 6:00 a.m. on a Boeing 737. The veterans are taken on a tour of the district before heading to Arlington National Cemetery as well as a portion of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Wheeler says the trip ends up being about a 20-hour day for those attending, however, some of the most special of moments on the trip, happen at the very end. “We’re back by about 9:30 that night and hopefully the airport is full of well-wishers and people who would like to say thank you and welcome home.
Which is something that most of these veterans, if they’re going to be on this flight, they have never heard in their entire lives. They sacrificed, they did what they were supposed to, rolled up their sleeves, and got the job done, and didn’t get any thank yous, or recognition whatsoever. So that’s what this flight is all about. This I believe is the way to ultimately say thank you. And with an Honor Flight, the more people we can get at the airport Tuesday night, the nicer of an event it will be for the veterans themselves.”
Anyone is welcome to attend the Welcome Home Ceremony at Springfield Airport on Tuesday night. Wheeler says they usually arrive around 9:30 pm, however, sometimes it’s a little earlier or later depending on the flight.
If you or someone you know is a veteran and would be interested in going on one of the 2024 Honor Flights, or would like to donate to the cause, go to landoflincolnhonorflight.org. You can also call Wheeler at 217-473-2540.