A Flight of Honor

Published 6:26 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Most of them have been to Washington, D.C., they have served inthe military for years, they have marched side by side fellowsoldiers, but none of them have visited the nation’s capital andhistoric sites quite like they will on Wednesday.

Wesley Kent, Don Hemphill, Cecil Rhodes, Clell King and JamesSwager, all of Brookhaven, will be a part of the first MississippiGulf Coast Honor Flight, which will be flying up to 90 World War IIveterans to Washington, D.C., to tour historic memorials in honorof the U.S. military.

“I’m so excited I’m just about to back out,” joked King. “We’rekind of special to be on that first flight.”

The National Honor Flight network began in 2005 with a fewveterans at a time being flown in private planes. However, theflights have grown since then and in 2010 more than 22,000 veteransmade the trip to Washington, D.C., and roughly 80,000 veterans havetoured memorials thanks to the national organization.

“I think it shows that the country appreciates what we did,”said Kent.

The group will be leaving for Washington from Gulfport at about5 a.m. Wednesday and is expected to arrive at Reagan NationalAirport around 10 a.m.

The veterans will be touring the World War II Memorial, Koreanand Vietnam memorials, the Lincoln Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorialand Arlington National Cemetery. Some veterans will also beselected to participate in various ceremonies.

“It’ll be a big day for a bunch of old men traveling,” saidSwager.

The trip promises to be special as the Brookhaven veterans willbe surrounded by fellow military personnel that share similarhistory. The visit will give the men an opportunity to remember thepast among servicemen who understand the struggle and triumphs ofserving the country during a time of need.

“We were all from different branches of the military and yetwe’re united in doing what we could for our country during ourtime,” said Kent. “We thank the Lord we made it back because a lotof our buddies didn’t make it back.”

Although the trip will be free of charge to veterans, thefighting five from Brookhaven was able to raise $2,400 from localbusinesses and banks for other servicemen hoping to make the visitin years to come.

“We were thinking about another group,” said Kent. “Somebodythought about us.”

There are about 3 million WWII veterans alive today, but thesoldiers are passing at a rate of about 1,000 per day or more,according to a Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight fact sheet.

“It’s good they are doing it now because we won’t be around toomany years,” said Kent.

The men from Brookhaven headed to Washington on the Honor Flightwill be sure to leave a memorable impression on flight attendantsand the other veterans, as they have become good friends throughthe years.

“When we get back they’ll say that’s the last flight,” jokedRhodes.

Besides sharing similar backgrounds, the men also take part inthe same coffee club and attend the same church.

“It’s amazing we stay friends,” joked Kent.