CHATHAM — For aging veterans, a visit to the nation's war memorials in Washington can be a poignant experience. But for those who served in World War II and Korea, the most senior veterans, travel can be a challenge.
On Monday, local vets heard from the founder of Honor Flight New England, which provides all-expense-paid trips to D.C. for senior veterans. Joe Byron spoke at the annual Veterans Day luncheon, sponsored by the Friends of the Chatham Council on Aging.
“Please allow me to call you 'heroes,'” Byron said, “because you saved the world.”
When he was a police officer in Manchester, N.H., Byron worked extensively with seniors (82 percent of whom don't routinely report crimes, he added). He met a World War II veteran and was inspired by his story and his desire to visit Washington. Byron volunteered to lead the Honor Flight program in New England, and now works with a “family” of volunteers, arranging four or five flights each year between the Northeast and the capital.
“I want to get you on a flight with us,” he told the group. Participants pay nothing other than to arrange their own transportation to Boston. “We'll take care of it all,” Byron said.
At Monday's luncheon, Byron sat at a table with veterans who had already made an Honor Flight trip. Ossie Keiver, who served in the U.S. Army in Europe, said the trip's organizers took care of every little detail.
“We went directly to the monument,” he said. While it might have been possible for him to have visited D.C. on his own, Keiver said, “you wouldn't get the thrill” of traveling in such style and with other veterans.
Wesley Jung, who served in Korea, made the trip in September.
“It was a dream, really,” he said.
Harvey Seltzer, a World War II veteran who served with the U.S. Army in France and Germany, agreed.
So far, Honor Flight New England has arranged 45 flights, serving 1,621 senior veterans. Occasionally, veterans will fill an entire flight from Logan to New York, giving them the chance to swap stories with others who served. Particularly for World War II vets, whose numbers are dwindling, spending time with each other is an important experience.
Those at Monday's free luncheon enjoyed their meals over place mats custom drawn by Chatham Elementary School students, who also contributed posters for the walls and individual drawings for each veteran to take home.
To learn more about the program, veterans are asked to call Kathy Carucci at 508-945-5190.