|Jack McGraw getting ready for his flight. FTM file.|
According to their website, "Honor Flight is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing veterans with honor and closure." They transport veterans to Washington D.C. to visit and reflect at the memorials.
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There are 21,032 veterans on their waiting list. An estimated 640 WWII veterans die every day according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, so World War II survivors get top priority along with veterans who are terminally ill.
On October 25, 2016, John "Jack" McGraw, left his Fort Thomas home very early to get to the airport by 6 a.m. to spend the day in Washington D.C. He arrived back after a busy day at 10 p.m. that same day.
Jack is a veteran of the Korean War and served in the Navy from January of 1951 to August of 1954. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier and did a lot of traveling on Korean waters. Since the aircraft carrier was so close to the equator, Jack had a lot of sunburn which resulted in Melanoma cancer later in life.
Went he came home, he attended Xavier University, worked for the U.S. Postal Service and then worked for the Internal Revenue Service before he retired. Jack is a father to six children.
"I'm looking forward to visiting Arlington Cemetery and I've never seen the Korean Memorial," Jack said before leaving on the trip. "My brother-in-law went on the Honor Flight and he really enjoyed it. He was a World War II veteran."
Honor Flight requires a guardian to go on the trip with them that can take care of all the veteran's needs. Jack's daughter, Patty Luken, will be going on the trip with him and will push his wheelchair. The day is free for the veteran but guardians are charged $450.00.
A good friend, Lisa Kelly, went with them to the airport and took lots of photos of "Uncle Jack" before he boarded the plane which she generously shared with Fort Thomas Matters.
Lisa says, "Uncle Jack is a really good person. Always friendly to everyone and he really deserved this trip."
When they arrived at the airport, they got a great send-off complete with a parade, bagpipes, and a large United States flag that was passed overhead.
|The passing of the flag overhead at the airport before leaving.|
Honor Flight supplies the vets with red or blue wheelchairs for those that aren't ambulatory or just might have a hard time walking throughout the day. Jack doesn't usually use a wheelchair but decided it was a good idea this time. They boarded a flight on American Airlines and were off to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials.
Patty, Jack's daughter and guardian said, "I was so impressed with how well it was run. I can't say enough about the organization. Everything was planned perfectly and a lot of thought was put into it."
Patty said the average age of the veterans that were on this trip were 82. The oldest was 96 and Jack is 86. There was one woman veteran. They chartered three buses for the 70 veterans and the 70 guardians. There were also three medics (one for each bus), three tour guides, and other volunteers. The weather was beautiful with a blue sky and a high in the 60s.
Some of the highlights of the trip were when the daughter of one of the veterans showed up early in the day to surprise her father at the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial. She is serving in the Marines and got the day off to be her father's guardian for the rest of the day. At the Korean Memorial, a veteran received a surprise when his son, daughter-in-law, and their new baby showed up to spend the day with him.
Jack said, "My favorites were Arlington Cemetery with the changing of the guard, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II memorial."
|Patty and Jack at the Lincoln Memorial|
Patty said her father was very quiet when they were at the Korean War Memorial and spent a long time there. Jack and Patty also visited the Navy Memorial with the other Navy veterans.
|Jack at the Korean War Memorial|
|Jack at the United States Navy Memorial|
Towards the end of the day near the Vietnam memorial, a group of school kids around 10 or 11 saw Jack sitting there and came up one at a time and thanked him for his service. Patty felt he was moved and surprised by this.
|The Vietnam War Memorial|
When they finally returned home late that evening, they were met by thousands of people cheering them along with music and waving flags. It was a long day, but definitely one that will always be treasured.
|The Korean War Memorial|
|Close-up of the wall behind the Korean War Memorial|
|Plaque at the Korean War Memorial|
|The World War II Memorial|
|Close-up of the World War II Memorial showing Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky|
|Plaque at the World War II Memorial|