Phil and Nancy Abendschein celebrated their birthdays by making a donation to the Old Glory Honor Flight program.
“We decided that because the trip was such a life-changing experience for Phil, that we would raise money for the Old Glory Honor Flight,” Nancy said.
Last Oct. 21, Abendschein was among the approximately 100 World War II veterans who were on the Old Glory flight from Appleton to Washington, D.C.
At the couple’s joint birthday party on July 31 – held in celebration of Phil turning 85 and Nancy 75 – donations for the Old Glory Honor Flight were their gift of choice.
More than 200 people attended the party, and the Abendscheins recently donated $500 to the program.
“All the donations we receive go strictly to helping the vets,” said Tony Van Kampen, who along with his Lorraine are members of the Old Glory Honor Flight board of directors.
They accepted the donation on behalf of the program.
Old Glory Honor Flight is the Northeast Wisconsin hub of the Honor Flight Network. The network was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired U.S. Air Force captain who wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for close to 30 years.
The World War II Memorial was completed and dedicated in 2004. Morse, a pilot himself, asked veterans if they would visit the memorial. Many said they would eventually make it there with a family member or friend.
As those veterans returned for follow-up visits at the clinic where he worked, he again asked them if they had yet gone to see the memorial.
Many were not physically able to or could not afford the trip.
Morse asked one veteran if he would go, if Morse flew him there for free. When he saw the veteran’s reaction, he quickly realized many other World War II veterans would react in the same way.
In early 2005, a board was formed and funds were raised. The first flight was in May of 2005.
Soon, the program spread throughout the country.
In Wisconsin, there are five hubs, with it averaging five flights a year.
The first flight out of the Northeast Wisconsin hub took place in October of 2009. “We will be having mission 10 on Aug. 25,” Van Kampen said. Another flight is scheduled for October. “In two years, we will have 11 and about 1,000 vets to D.C.,” he said.
The flights, which are free for veterans, leave in the morning for Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial and other sites, returning later the same day.
Van Kampen, who is a member of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 444, learned about the program when a board member attended one of the chapter’s meetings, asking the chapter to consider making a donation.
The chapter did make a donation, and intrigued, Van Kampen did a bit of research online, resulting in both he and Lorraine applying to be guardians.
Guardians accompany the veterans on the trips and pay for their own cost.
“We both went as guardians last August (2010) and loved it so much we applied again to be guardians and went again last October,” he said.
Last year, while in Washington, D.C., the couple mentioned their interest in becoming more involved in the program. They were asked to be on the board of directors and now help organize the flights out of Appleton. They also go on each flight.
Everyone who works with Old Glory Honor Flight is a volunteer, he said.
“We do this when we’re not working,” Van Kampen said. “This is for the homecoming they (World War II veterans) never received.”
He said funding sources include donations, fundraisers and corporate sponsorships.
People can donate through the program’s website, which is www.oldgloryhonorflight.org. World War II veterans who have not yet made the flight and want to will also find the application there.
Van Kampen said some veterans say they already visited the memorial with their families, but he tells them that going there with 100 veterans is a different experience.
Wheelchairs are on hand during the trips to Washington, D.C., and he said that veterans of other wars who are terminally ill are also accepted for the program.
Van Kampen said the World War II veterans who have gone on these flights often begin sharing stories about their experiences during the war after they return from the trip.
“This winter, we’re putting out a campaign. We know there are veterans out there who don’t know about the program,” he said. “We want to continue this and get them all going there.”