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Honor Flight San Diego planning surprise for veterans who can't go to D.C. this year

Posted at 6:29 PM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 14:48:00-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - Honor Flight is a National organization that takes older veterans to Washington D.C. to visit war memorials, and the nonprofit just announced that all flights in 2020 will be postponed. For Honor Flight San Diego, the two canceled trips in 2020 means 160 World War II and Korean War veterans will have to wait until May of 2021 to take the trip, putting a year and a half between trips. Nationally, an estimated 20,000 veterans are being impacted by 2020’s cancellations.

Holly Shaffner is the Director of Public Relations for Honor Flight San Diego and said the local chapter is still trying to find ways to keep the excitement for the veterans who are unable to travel this year. She said one of the emotional surprises for the veterans on the trip is “mail call,” when they surprise the group with a package of letters from family, friends and strangers thanking them for their service. This is to pay tribute to getting letters from home while they were in the service.

“In World War II they didn’t have the technology that we have today where you can do FaceTime and emails,” said Shaffner.

Honor Flight San Diego has already collected about 1,900 letters that they had planned to give out to the veterans on the 2020 trip, so organizers decided to use these letters to lift the spirits of the veterans who now have to wait a year for the trip. Honor Flight will be putting together mail call packages to mail to the veterans homes for them to open, hopefully giving them something to look forward to.

Shaffner said one of the hardest realizations for them is acknowledging that of the World War II veterans on the list, not all of them will still be alive.

“The reality for us is that when we start making the phone calls for them to go on that trip in May, there will be veterans that have passed away and there will be veterans that cannot travel,” she said.

She hopes sending the letters to their home will help keep their spirits high during this lull.

Winona Ruth Gunther is 100 years old and is one of the World War II veterans who was supposed to go in 2020. She said she’s worried about public places right now so she respects the decision to wait until 2021.

“At my age you really take a chance when you get into a crowd and an airplane particularly,” she said.

She worked as a corpsman in the Hospital Corps of the Navy in World War II. She has stories of caring for injured people in California and says those hard memories are the ones that stay with her. She’s already seen many of the memorials in Washington D.C., but said she was looking forward to going with the Honor Flight group because of the connection they all will feel seeing these memorials together.

“It’s the camaraderie that you have with people that have similar experiences that you look forward to,” she said.

Now, she waits for May of 2021, with some surprise letters heading her way thanks to Honor Flight.

Shaffner said another obstacle the nonprofit is facing is keeping funding up. When the veterans are taken to Washington D.C., they don’t pay a dime. Everything, from the flight to the food, is paid for by donations. She said it costs about $500,000 for the two trips from San Diego. Shaffner said right now, they only have enough money raised for one trip in 2021. She said if they could, they would take even more than the planned 160 people next year to make up for the two lost trips in 2020, but that would be dependent on funding, which isn’t possible right now.