A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Honor Flight Tri-State director speaks to Rotary Club of Florence about effort to thank veterans

By Patrick Moynahan
Rotary Club of Florence

Cheryl Popp hopes to see a grassroots movement to preserve the stories of U.S. military veterans.

Their stories not only provide a dramatic tableau of America at war, but also magnify what it means to be an American, she said.

Pop addressing the Rotary Club of Florence on November 4 (provided photo).

“Destiny chose them to be Americans by birth and heroes by the grace of God,” Popp told members of the Rotary Club of Florence at a luncheon commemorating Veterans Day. “They have served their country so that we could remain free.”

“Every veteran is a link to our past and a passport to our future. We must learn to carry the banner of patriotism to the next generation.”

Popp is doing her part to carry the banner and preserve veterans’ stories. She helps them relive memories and receive the thanks due them as director of Honor Flight Tri-State, which provides free trips to military memorials in Washington, D.C., for veterans 65 and older. She also shares local veterans’ stories in two volumes of “Legacy of Courage,” co-authored with Peter Bronson.

Honor Flight Tri-State, a Cincinnati-based non-profit organization, currently conducts one-day chartered flight trips to Washington five times a year. The organization has arranged 72 honor flights for 6,500 veterans since Popp joined the organization in 2005.

The daughter of a World War II veteran, Popp said American soldiers have served and continue to serve “every place in the world where tyranny reigns.” They have done so at great sacrifice with no complaint and little preservation.

Veterans typically don’t talk much about their war experiences, Popp said, but people need to hear their stories.

 “These stories need to be told and preserved for the future,” she said. “The preservation of these stories is critical to our history.”

Few of the 16 million who served in World War II are still alive. Some 440,000 perished in the war; the survivers came home to build America into a powerful nation. More than 36,000 died in Korea in what is now known as the “forgotten war.” And another 58,000 gave their lives in an unpopular war in “a country (Vietnam) no one can even find on a map,” Popp said.

After the National World War II Memorial opened in 2004, retired Air Force Capt. Earl Morse of Springfield, Ohio, flew several veterans in his own plane to see it. With the help of 11 pilots from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, he launched Honor Flight.

The recognition program since has grown into an Honor Flight network with 133 hubs in 46 states and chartered flights on commercial airlines. Honor Flight Tri-State funds the flights through individual donations, corporate sponsors and fund-raising events such as the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Honor Run Half Marathon that takes place the Sunday of each Veteran’s Day weekend.

The 18-hour, one-day trips take veterans to five war memorials, Arlington Cemetery and Lincoln Memorial. Volunteers called “guardians” assist veterans on the flights, and help them find names of buddies on the memorials. If a guardian touches an engraved name of someone they don’t know, Popp said, they are asked to say the name of the veteran five times.

“They taught us how to be Americans,” Popp noted. “We just need to listen now.”

A recording of this presentation and past meetings of the Rotary Club of Florence is available on the club’s Facebook page. 

The Rotary Club of Florence (serving all of Boone County) is a community service organization focusing on “service above self.” The club meets weekly on Mondays at noon at the Hilton Airport located at 7373 Turfway Road. To learn more about upcoming speakers and events, please visit the club’s website.

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One Comment

  1. Dick Flaugher says:

    I have been on the honor flight trip and you are a king for a day. They can’t do enough for you. I also know Earl Morse. We went to church together. Al and Kelly do a great job also. I missed the meeting at the fair grounds in Springfield this year as I came down with leukemia this past January. Keep up the great work you are doing. Thank you for everything you did and are doing.

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