If you go
What: Screening of a documentary about the Honor Flight program
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Bend High School
Cost: $10, proceeds go to Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon
WASHINGTON — It began eight years ago, about a year after the National World War II Memorial took its place of honor on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., after its dedication in May 2004.
Finally, the Greatest Generation, as the men and women who served in America’s armed forces during World War II have come to be known, had a memorial of their own, celebrating their sacrifices and achievements during the five-year conflict. But how many of them could manage to make the trip on their own?
To help address that issue, a nonprofit program called Honor Flight sprang into existence. The premise is simple: At no cost to the veterans themselves, the program flies them to Washington, then escorts them around the city during their visit to the World War II Memorial and other sites.
What started with a handful of flights from Ohio in 2005 has grown to a nationwide program, with 127 hubs in 42 states, including two in Oregon. As of December 2012, Honor Flight has helped more than 98,000 World War II veterans make the trip to Washington.
“This whole program is a race against the clock because the veterans are dying faster than we can take them,” said Dick Tobiason, the CEO of the Bend Heroes Foundation, which runs Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon, covering all the counties east of the Cascades. Honor Flight of Portland Oregon handles Clatsop, Columbia, Hood River, Multnomah and Washington counties. Veterans from other Oregon counties are accommodated as needed.
Since its inaugural trip in October 2010, Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon has returned seven times, taking 189 veterans to Washington, including 132 from Central Oregon. Over the same period, its Portland counterpart has accommodated an additional 118 veterans.
Tobiason, himself a Vietnam-era veteran, estimates there are 1,400 World War II veterans still living in Central Oregon. To reach this figure, he extrapolated from the statewide figures of 24,000 World War II veterans out of 360,000 overall, and applied the ratio to the 20,000 total veterans living in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties.
Part of the challenge is the physical condition of the aging veterans, who are mostly in their late 80s or early 90s. Each Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon participant is accompanied by a guardian, often a family member, who is responsible for roughly $1,200 to help offset his or her own expenses.
Medical personnel are on every flight to deal with any complications that arise when the veterans travel. Last month, an 88-year-old veteran from Yamhill County passed away on a flight from Portland to Chicago during a trip organized by Honor Flight.
More than 16.1 million Americans served during World War II, and more than 90 percent of those are no longer living.
About 600 World War II veterans die each day, according to estimates by the Department of Veterans Affairs. While there are about 1.4 million currently living, by 2017 that number is expected to dip under 600,000.
Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon typically takes two trips a year, one in May and one in September, hoping to hit Washington when the weather is less likely to be extremely hot or cold. Each trip includes roughly 50 veterans and 50 guardians, who spend two full days in Washington, with a travel day on each end of the trip.
Next May’s trip already has 10 people on the waiting list, Tobiason said. Over the course of three years, 22 would-be participants have died while awaiting their turn to go, and 16 veterans who made the trip have since died, he said.
Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon does what it can to personalize the occasion. Each veteran is presented with a flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol, and Rep. Greg Walden enters each veterans’ name into the Congressional Record, said Tobiason.
Everett Endicott, 93, of Redmond, enlisted in November 1941, just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was set on becoming a pilot, and by July 1943, he had accomplished his goal, earning his wings, his commission, and getting married on the same day.
Endicott was so skilled as a pilot that the Army kept him on in Florida as an instructor, first in P-40 Warhawks then in P-51 Mustangs.
In September, he was one of 50 Oregon veterans who made the trip to Washington with Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon.
“It was absolutely outstanding,” he said. “I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I cannot think of one thing that would have made the trip better.”
The father of one veteran on the trip was buried in Arlington Cemetery, and the trip’s organizers helped locate his father’s grave and made time for him to visit it, Endicott said. Later, Endicott was selected to help lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever had,” he said of the wreath ceremony.
Redmond Mayor George Endicott, himself a Vietnam veteran, joined his father on the trip, and was touched by the amount of support and gratitude that strangers showered on the veterans.
“Those of us who were in Vietnam, or even the Korean War, our monuments got built while we were still here,” he said. “These guys are now late 80s, early 90s if they’re even still with us.”
During the trip, veterans told stories about storming the beaches of Iwo Jima, and another recalled being on Omaha Beach during D-Day, he said.
While they were visiting the World War II memorial, they encountered a middle school group that was studying World War II, George Endicott said. After their teachers made sure it was all right, the students swarmed the veterans, asking to shake their hands, to pose for a picture or sign an autograph.
Strangers stopped and applauded in the airports.
“It really gets you when people everywhere treat you so darn nice,” said the elder Endicott. “It kind of embarrasses you a little.”
George Endicott said he is grateful he got to take the trip with his father.
“Anybody out there who has a family member (who is a World War II veteran), do this. You’ll never regret it,” he said.
On Thursday, a documentary about the Honor Flight program will be screened at 6 p.m. at Bend High School. Admission is $10 and doors open at 5 p.m. All proceeds will go toward the cost of future Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon trips.
“We’re trying to take as many veterans as we can at a time consistent with our ability to raise money for them, because they travel for free,” said Tobiason, pledging to keep the program running until they no longer have any applications. “They saved the world. It’s an honor and a privilege to do what we’re doing.”
Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin file photo
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., stands with Bend resident Bob Maxwell, recipient of the Medal of Honor, at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 2011. Dole often welcomes veterans’ groups at the memorial.
Courtesy of Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon
Redmond Mayor George Endicott, left, stands with his father, World War II veteran Everett Endicott, in front of a P-51 Mustang at the Madras Air Show in August. The P-51 is among a variety of planes Everett Endicott flew in the Air Force during the war.
Courtesy of Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon
Everett Endicott, 93, of Redmond, was among the veterans who laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C., on the most recent Honor Flight in September. Honor Flight is a nonprofit that provides trips to veterans free of charge so they can visit the World War II Memorial and other sites.