With more than 20,000 World War II veterans on a waiting list to receive a free trip to Washington, D.C., and 900 of them dying every day, Earl Morse is happy to get as much free publicity as he can for Honor Flight.
The national organization he founded in Springfield in 2005 to fly veterans incapable of getting to the National World War II Memorial on their own only flies when enough private donations are received.
That need for awareness is the only reason Morse said he will accept a national award Tuesday from the American Academy of Physician Assistants for his work as a physician assistant in the federal sector.
The 54-year-old Enon resident, who started Honor Flight while working in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ outpatient clinic on Burnett Road, will be given the academy’s top honor for a federal sector physician assistant at its 41st annual conference in the nation’s capital.
The academy represents more than 90,000 certified physician assistants.
“Usually, the award goes to a military person,” said Morse, a retired Air Force captain who previously served as a flight medic and physician assistant in the military.
The academy selected Morse for establishing Honor Flight.
“There are PAs on the frontlines right now being shot at. I’ve never been shot at,” he said. “I don’t feel I deserve it when there are people in harm’s way right now.”
He admits that working with the Greatest Generation has had an impact on him.
“The World War II veterans we take on Honor Flight, they never go around banging their chest talking about how great they are,” Morse said. “Some of that has rubbed off on me.”
Honor Flight officially began in May 2005, when six private planes flew out of the Springfield airport carrying 12 World War II veterans to see their newly dedicated memorial. Morse was one of the pilots.
“I am being recognized for something I love and thoroughly enjoy,” he said. “Getting an award for that just feels awkward.”
Morse also is featured in the latest issue of People magazine — with Angelina Jolie on the cover — as a “Hero Among Us.” He notes that Jennifer Aniston is on the opposite page.
“I honestly feel I am the Forrest Gump of nonprofit organizers,” he joked.
While still based in Springfield, the nonprofit organization he started is now a nationwide network of 119 hubs in 40 states, and has switched exclusively to commercial aircraft.
Close to 100,000 veterans have so far been escorted to Washington and back free of charge.
“If you had a chance to take Abe Lincoln to the Lincoln Memorial, would you?” Morse asked. “That’s what it’s like for all of us in Honor Flight.”
Morse left the local VA clinic to devote time to Honor Flight, but he soon realized he missed treating veterans.
After three years at the Chillicothe VA Medical Center, he recently returned to work at the Burnett Road clinic.