Veteran Randy Ark waited a year to go on his Honor Flight trip to the nation’s capital to see the war memorials.
He is one of 225,000 veterans to make the trip to Washington D.C. since Honor Flight, a Clark County-based non-profit, began sponsoring veterans in 2005.
“It’s giving the veterans the respect and honor they deserve for their sacrifices and their families’ sacrifices they have done for us,” Honor Flight Dayton President Al Bailey, said.
Ark served as a medic in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1969. Upon returning, he went back to college and became a special education teacher. Today, he works with the National Trail Parks & Recreation District on the Clark County Veterans Memorial Park.
“I was trying to save lives and help people as a medic, that was my goal and mission,” Ark said. “From that experience being in combat, that helped shape me into what I do today as far as working with veterans.”
Since 2011, Ark has helped the National Trail Parks & Recreation District build three memorials to honor veterans. One memorial honors the 63 Clark County veterans that died in Vietnam. The memorials have all been paid for by veterans and veteran’s families, Ark said.
“I think about all the guys who lost their lives, friends of mine,” Ark said. “I do want to make the most of my survival by helping veterans.”
Ark was on the Honor Flight National Board for a few years and helped organize Honor Flight trips. This trip was “extra special” because his son came with him and he experienced the trip with a group of veterans from his Purple Heart Chapter.
“He or she is king or queen for the day. They are treated like royalty,” Ark said when describing the trip. “It’s quite an experience.”
The Honor Flight one-day trip is free for all veterans, including ones that did not participate in combat. Veterans are allowed to bring a guardian.
For veterans that do not want to fly or can not fly, a three day RV trip is available.
On the trip, Ark saw several war memorials, Arlington Park, the United States Capitol Building, and the changing of guards.
Honor Flight sends veterans to see the war memorials because they were built in their honor and they deserve to see them, Bailey said.
Ark left the Dayton airport at 3:30 a.m. and returned home to a “huge welcome” at 10 p.m.
“About 2,000 people welcomed the veterans home,” Bailey said. “This is the first time most of them have ever been thanked for their service.”
On the veteran’s ride home, they receive “mail call.” This is where veterans receive letters from home written by their wives, grandchildren, friends, and other veterans.
“I think it allows veterans to not only mingle with other veterans that have seen and heard similar experiences and maybe identical experiences in some cases. But it allows them to finally get some stuff out of their systems,” Ark said. “To me, that camaraderie, fellowship that they have with one another and their guardians - that’s the most beneficial.”
In 2018, Honor Flight flew 21,189 veterans and 19,383 guardians to Washington D.C. 38,054 veterans are on a waiting list.
Many veterans have told Bailey that the trip means the world to them, but he said one specifically said, “’This was the best day of his life.’”
Veterans interested in the Honor Flight trip, can apply by filling out an online application at www.honorflight.org/applications/. For more information, call 614-558-6220.
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.