On September 22nd, Honor Flight made history by arranging the first all-women veterans honor flight to Washington, D.C. Recognizing that historically, women veterans have not received the recognition they rightfully deserve for their service, especially compared to male veterans, Honor Flight decided to make the event extra special and incorporate as many women veterans as possible. Although previous honor flights had of course been open to women veterans, few would attend.
For those who may not be familiar with the Honor Flight Network, it is an organization that was founded out of two separate ideas with the same goal. Honor Flight provides veterans with the opportunity to visit the various monuments in Washington D.C. in order to pay their respects to their comrades. The idea first came to retired Air Force captain and veteran, Earl Morse, who realized that many older veterans had yet to visit the National WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. After the first honor flight took place in 2005, Jeff Miller, a small business owner from North Carolina was inspired to help out as well and began his own organization. Eventually, both groups decided to merge and the Honor Flight Network was born.
The idea for an all-women veteran honor flight was initially brought up by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair which had asked Honor Flight with help in organizing the event. However, the Honor Flight Network decided to take matters into their own hand and organize the event themselves. With the VA’s help, Honor Flight was able to send out applications and invitations to eligible veterans. Shortly after, they had received an unexpected response of 250 applications despite only having space for about 140 participants.
According to Cheryl Popp, the director of Honor Flight Tri-State, the organization had to take a different approach in order to ensure fairness in selecting the participants. To do so, they organized all applicants alphabetically and then from oldest to youngest. Honor Flight gives top priority to veterans over the age of 65. In the end, what they did was select the 72 oldest veterans and 72 of the youngest veterans that were eligible. Veterans under 40 were able to participate as Honor Guards – a position which normally doesn’t require one to have served in the military but in this case, all Honor Guards were women who had served as well.
Several of the women who attended had made a career out of military service and many more had served numerous tours throughout the years. The event was also helpful to many veterans who had lost contact with other fellow veterans throughout the years, and were happy to meet more women who had this similar and often unique experience.