Stories of wheelchair-bound World War II veterans pushing aside barriers at the WWII Memorial in Washington, shuttered because of the government shutdown, hits home with Barbara Howard.
That's because Howard, the director of Honor Flights of West Central Florida, has a group of 80 WWII veterans from this area set to hop a flight next week to the nation's capitol to visit the memorial, one of the many casualties of the government shut down that went into effect after Congress failed to approve a spending measure in a partisan spat over the Affordable Care Act.
The veterans in Washington were from a Honor Flight program in Mississippi. The Honor Flights take WWII veterans, mostly in their late 80s and early 90s, on an all-expense paid trip to see the memorial commemorating the war they fought. The departures and returns are usually boisterous affairs, with family members, supporters, and local military and political leaders in attendance.
Howard has been warily following the coverage of events in Washington in publications like Stars and Stripes and elsewhere.
“We are very concerned,” said Howard. “If we have to reschedule, a lot of the veterans will back out, which is a shame because this may be their last chance to go there. So many of these heroes are dying.”
Howard said she is basing that observation on what happened last year, when a flight that coincided with Hurricane Sandy and had to be rescheduled.
The 13th Honor Flight run by Howard's organization is scheduled to leave St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport on Oct. 8, but arrangements have to be locked in by this weekend, she said.
So a lot of frantic calls have been made to the local Congressional delegation.
“Maybe they can do something,” said Howard.
Tuesday morning, Howard sent out an email to her Honor Flight network, urging them to reach out to their elected officials.
“The government shutdown has impacted the WWII Memorial and all others in DC (excluding Air Force and Arlington),” she wrote. “If it continues, we may not be able to fly our greatest heroes, our WWII Veterans, to DC to visit their Memorial. Given their ages, I would guess some will decide not to reschedule their trip (or worse) if we need to postpone. There are many Honor Flights with hundreds of WWII Veterans who are being impacted by the shut down of the WWII Memorial...We are planning on proceeding with the orientation on Sunday Oct 6 as planned, hoping that our Congressionals can figure something out for our WWII Heroes so we can fly on Oct 8.”
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, offered his best wishes to the flight members.
“A government shutdown is not good for anyone. Many people are victims, including the brave men who served our country during WWII and are taking their Honor Flight. I sincerely hope that Congress can come to an agreement as soon as possible to ensure that these Floridians will be able to enjoy this well-deserved trip of a lifetime,” he said.