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The official Honor Flight program was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force Captain to honor veterans he had the privilege of treating for over twenty-seven years.  After retiring in 1998, he was employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and worked in a small Springfield, OH clinic.  When the World War II Memorial was finally completed and dedicated, it quickly became a coffee shop topic of discussion.  He inquired of his patients if they would be interested in visiting THEIR memorial.  Some wanted to go if their family or a friend would help take them, but many had limited finances and the journey would also be physically taxing.  Most had given up hope of ever seeing the only monument specifically created to honor their services and of their service comrades, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.  It needed to be done quickly because our World War II Veterans were dying at the rate of 1,200 per day.

Earl was a pilot with connections at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  In 2004 he arranged to fly one of his patients free of charge to visit the memorial.  Then another.  He began enlisting other pilots to help him and in early 2005 he and others met and outlined the program.  First of all, the veterans would pay nothing, and they would have escorts during their visit.  From that meeting, eleven pilots signed on and Honor Flight was born.

The local chapter, started by Don Niehart, is a not-for-profit Illinois corporation and has applied for 501c(3) status with the federal government.  They have begun to meet with local civic groups and are gathering names through the VFW, American Legion and other organizations in downstate Illinois and have already been contacted by veterans from Springfield to Sesser.  They will primarily fly out of St. Louis, utilizing commercial airlines.

One guardian will be required for each veteran that requires assistance with a cane, walker or wheelchair.  For those veterans who are mobile and can walk without assistance, one guardian will be assigned to groups of three veterans.  Each volunteer guardian pays his or her own way while the veteran travels free including transportation for the daylong journey commencing at 4:00am and ending at 9:30pm.  Representatives of Honor Flight meet the veterans and participate in a 1-2 hour ceremony at the World War II Memorial.  Following the ceremony, the group may visit other memorials, monuments or sites, depending on pre-determined schedules.

 
Central Illinois Honor Flight Officers:
President:
Don Niehart
Board of Directors: David McDevitt, Lisa Strullmyer, Lori Tappendorf, Laura Paruleski, Bruce Burkey.

Central Illinois Honor Flight isn't the only chapter in Illinois, there are more, as well as all across the nation.  In order to figure out which Illinois chapter may apply to you - click here to see the map!