Kansas is losing its remaining World War II Veterans at the rate of about 28 veterans a day. Now, a program designed to recognize their service could be in jeopardy and local organizers say they don't understand why.
Veterans like George Grenyo, who’ve already made the Honor Flight trip to D-C to visit the new national World War II memorial, call it the trip of a lifetime and say it meant everything to them.
“But the bottom line is all the vets got to go, they got to see that,” Grenyo said.
The trips are organized and paid for by the Honor Flight Network, which has hubs responsible for coordinating trips at the local level. Kansas has five of those hubs.
The Central Prairie Honor Flight organization, based out of Great Bend but also operating through Wichita, has been one of the most successful such groups in the country.
“We've raised over $1 million. We've already sent over 1100 World War II veterans on Honor Flights,” said Herb Duncan, an Honor Flight volunteer out of Wichita who is himself a Vietnam Veteran.
That very track record is why local organizers are so upset the national Honor Flight Network has asked the Great Bend group to stop using the network's name and removed them as an organizational and fund raising hub for the program.
“With a flip of a switch, they're going to throw this out the window. And for what? What's the purpose?,” Duncan wondered.
KWCH contacted Jim McLaughlin, Chairman of the national Honor Flight Network's Board. He would only confirm that the national board had disaffiliated with the Central Prairie Honor Flight organization and that a new group would be taking over their duties in Central Kansas. He refused to discuss the reasoning behind the board's decision.
Mark VanCampen, head of the new hub called Honor Flight Kansas, admits his organization is just getting set up and has not yet begun to accept donations. Even its website remains incomplete.
In the long run, volunteers with Central Prairie say it's all about the veterans. And they’re not going to stop working to make sure those last 350 on the list can make the trip to D.C.. It will cost almost $230,000 to send them.
“Our mission is to get the veterans toWashington, D.C., and we don't care who they go with,” said LaVeta Miller, organizer and head of operations with Central Prairie Honor Flight.
Volunteers say despite the current organizational mess they plan raise enough money to send all 350 remaining veterans on an honor flight by the end of this year.
They just ask that any donations, no matter which of the two groups their given, be specifically designated for the use of 'Kansas Veterans' to ensure the money stays in-state.