Honor Flight program explained at SWFL Military Museum
Dr. Debi Lux, U.S. Navy veteran and founder of Collier-Lee Honor Flight, and Jessica Ingalls, U.S. Navy veteran and Honor Flight medical director, gave a presentation of the Honor Flight program Thursday evening at the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library in Cape Coral.
The program’s goal is to transport military veterans to Washing-ton, D.C., to visit memorials erected in gratitude of their service at no cost to the veterans. The program, which was established in 2013, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, run completely by volunteer support, with each flight averaging $130,000.
Lux and husband, Sean, who began as acting guardians on another Honor Flight, instituted the first Collier-Lee Honor Flight, which included 50 veterans, in less than six weeks.
“A guardian is a person who escorts their veteran throughout the entire day. It is one-to-one with these veterans. They are never left alone,” said Lux. The veteran, to whom she was assigned as acting guardian, had been waiting two years for an Honor Flight.
“What 90-year-old should have to wait two years for anything?” said Lux.
Ingalls knew about Honor Flight back in Kansas City, where her uncle had been involved in the program.
“I always wanted to go, but who has time to do something like this?” said Ingalls.
After hearing that Honor Flight was looking for female veterans in particular, Ingalls knew she had to make the time to get involved.
Ingalls agreed to take a flight, believing that she was going to be a guardian, assigned to look after a female veteran. Instead, she found herself being honored for her own military service.
“It was the most humbling thing I’ve ever been through. I knew I had to volunteer. I’ll go to the airport, I’ll go talk to people, I want to do everything I can for this organization because I got to meet all of these extraordinary women and then when we got home I got to meet all these extraordinary men that were waiting for them, who were also veterans,” said Ingalls.
Shortly after embarking on her own Honor Flight, Ingalls became a volunteer guardian for a Korean War medic. The two remained friends well after the flight as they found they have much in common. Ingalls is currently a flight medic as well as a Collier County paramedic. As Collier-Lee Honor Flight medical coordinator, Ingalls is the first contact for a veteran who would like to make a flight. Part of her position is to determine a veteran’s medical readiness for a flight.
“Now we have the Honor at Home program, that ensures a veteran is able to be honored as closely as possible to the Honor Flight if they cannot make a flight for medical reasons,” said Ingalls.
After receiving an email about a veteran who had been waiting over two years to get on an Honor Flight, Lux knew she and her husband had to get him on the next flight. After it was determined that he would never make a trip, due to medical complications, they decided to honor him for his service right in the local medical facility where he had been placed.
“He was a Navy medic who had been practicing his salute all night long, as he awaited our arrival. We were told the next morning that after we honored him, thanked him for his service and walked out, he closed his eyes and never woke up again. I believe he stayed alive just long enough to be thanked for his service,” said Lux.
The next Collier-Lee Honor Flight is scheduled for Sept. 28, 2019. Lux and Ingalls would like any veteran of World War II or the Korean War who has yet to make an Honor Flight to be made aware of the program, as time is of the essence for these vets in particular.
To volunteer as a guardian or to become a financial partner of the Collier-Lee Honor Flight program, please visit Collier-Lee Honor Flight on Facebook or go to www.CollierHonorFlight.org