World War II veterans offered free trip to D.C. memorial
Local politicians and banks have banded together to help overcome objections Northeast Louisiana World War II veterans may have about a free trp to visit a memorial to their efforts in Washington D. C.
The money-raising effort to cover group ground transportation costs is spearheaded by State Senators Neil Riser of Columbia, Francis Thompson of Delhi and Rep. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro.
Banks in Franklin, Richland and Caldwell parishes have joined in the project.
They include all of the banks in Richland Parish, Thompson said, including Richland State Bank, BancorpSouth, Guarranty Bank, Cross Keys Bank, Commercial Capital Bank and Regions Bank.
“Everybody was happy to support this project,” Thompson said.
The money will allow a group of up 25-30 veterans, who live in northeast Louisiana, and a number of caregivers, to make a monument observation trip to the District of Columbia May 9 as a group.
The trip, including air fare, is a regularly scheduled event of Louisiana HonorAir, an organization based in Lafayette with the mission of providing Louisiana veterans, who are physically able to travel, an opportunity to see the World War II memorial for the first time.
Franklin and Richland parish Veterans Affairs Officer Bobby Collins is a coordinator for the trip.
“We’ve had 1,400 Louisiana veterans take the trip,” said T. D. Smith, a Lafayette radio personality who heads the Louisiana HonorAir group. “But, there have been few from Northeast Louisiana.”
The May 9 trip is scheduled to leave and return from Shreveport and the money raised by the politicians and banks will allow the northeast Louisiana group to travel en mass from Monroe to Shreveport on the first and last legs of the trip.
Time, however, is short for those eligible to make a decision to see the memorial.
While the trip is scheduled for May 9, all applications for the 25 or so seats must be completed by March 29, the date of a pre-trip meeting which is mandatory at Barksdale AFB in Bossier City.
All expenses for the veterans and up to 14 caretakers or guardians will be paid, including an overnight stay in Shreveport prior to aircraft takeoff on the morning of May 9 and the bus trip to the pre-trip group meeting in Bossier City.
“We got a break from USA Airlines,” said Smith. “They are letting us have a larger aircraft than we usually have, so we’ll have the extra seating capacity.”
Smith said one of the drawbacks veterans often have about making a trip is health concerns and the need for special attention from a caregiver.
The average age of today’s World War II veteran is 86 years old, although Smith said one vet who was 92 at the time has made the trip.
“They are given the respect they deserve and they are helped every step of the way,” Riser said of veterans who make the trip.
“I’m grateful that I can participate,” said Thompson, who added, “I might volunteeer to go along as a helper just so I can more fully participate.”
Louisiana HonorAir has four trips scheduled for monument viewing, all from Shreveport this year.
Normally, veterans are asked to supply individual transportation to and from flight origination points during HonorAir events. In past years, flights have begun in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
Ellington, who was appointed to a seat on the Louisiana House Veterans Committee late last year, said: “We wanted to find a way to help these veterans, and when we found out that getting folks to the point of departure was a problem, we set out to find a way to get them there.”
Ellington, Riser and Thompson then worked with Collins to plan the bus trip. The three also pledged personal financial support before asking the banking institutions to become involved.
There are a few restrictions for travel. The veteran must be physically able to travel and the companion, or caretaker, can not be a spouse. It can be another family member.
Applications must be filled out and can be found at the offices of any of the three legislators or banks involved as well as the Winnsboro and Rayville offices of Veteran Affairs.
“Questions can come to my office,” said Collins.