Some veterans call it their last mission. It’s not into combat or a deployment to a distant outpost. It’s to our nation’s capital to see the memorials that commemorate the thousands of American men and women who served in the U.S. military over the decades.
Each year the Honor Flight Network transports hundreds of aging veterans from cities across the country to Washington, D.C., as a way to pay tribute to what they have given their nation and to enable them to find closure on all that they experienced during their military careers.
KET’s The Local Traveler visited with several Kentucky veterans who joined an Honor Flight from Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport. This episode also featured three long-time businesses in Louisville that have become popular tourist destinations.
The Roots of Honor Flights
Honor Flights are the brainchild of retired Air Force Capt. Earl Morse. In 2004, while he was working as a physician’s assistant at a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Ohio, he got the idea that World War II veterans should get to see the new memorial dedicated to them that year in Washington, D.C.
Vietnam veteran and Honor Flight Kentucky board member George Campbell says Morse asked a few vets if they wanted to go to the memorial, but most of them said they couldn’t do it. They either didn’t have the money, had physical limitations that made travel difficult, or they simply feared the rush of memories they might experience.
That’s when Morse decided to enlist the assistance of fellow private pilots at the aero club located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. Would they be willing to fly vets to Washington for a tour of the National WWII Memorial?
Campbell says Morse found a number of willing volunteers.
“In may of 2005, six small, single-engine airplanes with 12 veterans left Springfield, Ohio, for Washington, D.C.,” says Campbell. “That was our first flight.”
A dozen years later Honor Flights have taken more than 140,000 veterans from across the country to Washington free of charge. Campbell says Honor Flights in Kentucky take off from Louisville, Lexington, and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Flights are open to male and female vets, primarily from World War II but also the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts as well. A 2015 trip from Cincinnati marked the first-ever all-female Honor Flight.
Local Vets Reflect on Their Trip
The daylong trips include a round-trip flight from Kentucky to Washington,D.C., and ground transportation to the National World War II Memorial as well as the Korean and Vietnam War memorials, and to Arlington National Cemetery. Along the way, participants are treated to a “mail call” in which they each receive a packet of letters from children and adults who have written to thank the vets for their military service.
Upon their return home, they are treated to a heroes’ welcome as hundreds of other vets, friends, family members, and Honor Flight supporters turn out to greet the vets at the conclusion of their trip.
“After all those memories all day long of all the war memorials with a whole range of feelings of loss and pain… and joy of being with each other, and then to come in to that airport and be welcomed by such a range of people was for all of us just a very powerful, overwhelming experience,” says Paschal Baute, a disabled veteran who served in four branches of the military over a quarter century.
“The range of emotions that day of visiting those war memorials is too rich and varied to be broached here as we remembered the pain of buddies lost,” says Korean War veteran Charlie Eyer. “The undeserved gift of life, which we survivors have, was also constantly intensified.”
Campbell says the flights from Lexington carry about 70 veterans with an equal number of guardians who accompany and assist the vets. Each flight also carries a medical crew who can handle any special health needs or emergencies.
“I was so pleased that they were so willing to give me a hand any time I needed it,” says Peggy Radin, who took an Honor Flight with her husband, Gene. Both Radins served in the U.S. Coast Guard. “Everything that we needed, they supplied. It really was outstanding.”
Campbell says flights from Lexington are designed to serve veterans in central, eastern, and southern Kentucky. Organizers hope to host two Honor Flights each year, and Campbell says there’s a waiting list of both veterans and guardians wanting to participate.
“We encourage everyone, please, become part of our family, join this wonderful program,” says Campbell. “We want to get everybody involved to say thank you, and to show the appreciation to these men and women.”
Honor Flight Kentucky has trips from Lexington scheduled for Sept. 16 and Oct. 14, 2017. For application information or to support the Honor Flight program, visit Honor Flight Ky.
Honor Flights Bluegrass departs from Louisville International Airport and has trips planned for Sept. 6 and Oct. 14, 2017.
Honor Flight Tri-State departs from the airport in Covington with flights scheduled for Aug. 22, Sept. 26, and Oct. 24, 2017.
Campbell says everyone is invited to participate in the welcome home celebrations that conclude all Honor Flights.
Candies, Bats, and Breakfast in the River City
Louisville abounds with interesting businesses to explore, including some that have been in operation for generations. Take Muth’s Candies on East Market Street. Although the confectioner is in the heart of Louisville’s trendy NuLu district, the descendents of Rudy and Isabell Muth have been making fine chocolates, caramels, and other candies there since 1921.
Sarah Vories, the great-great niece of the founders, says Rudy Muth opened the candy shop after he returned from World War I, where he served as cook. Much of the equipment Rudy used then, the big mixers and the massive copper kettles, is still in use today.
Although Muth’s makes a range of candies, their signature treat is a caramel-covered marshmallow called the Modjeska. Vories says local candymaker Anton Busath named the treat for a Polish actress who appeared on Louisville stages in the 1880s.
“He fell in love with her acting,” Vories says, “and wrote her a letter asking if he could name his confection after her. She wrote back and said, “of course, I love it.”
Busath later gave his recipe to Rudy Muth, and the Modjeska tradition continues to thrive today.
Also in downtown, about a mile and half west of Muth’s is the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. Just look for the 120-foot tall replica of Babe Ruth’s bat that rests against the exterior of the factory on West Main Street. Here you can explore baseball history and see how bats used by professionals and amateurs alike are made.
“Eighty percent of Hall-of-Fame batters used Slugger bats, and all these great players have continued to use our bats,” says curator and exhibits director Chris Meiman. “It’s a symbol of pride for the city of Louisville.”
Meiman says John Andrew “Bud” Hillerich, a craftsman in his family’s woodworking shop, is thought to have made his first bat in 1884 for Pete Browning, a popular player for a local professional team of that era called the Louisville Eclipse. Word spread about his bats and soon major league players all over the country wanted one.
For some 90 years, all Louisville Slugger bats were made by hand. Automated machines do that work now, cranking out about 1.8 million bats each year, but visitors to the Slugger Museum can watch craftsman make wooden bats the old fashioned way. Guests can also explore exhibits about the many players who hit with Louisville Sluggers down through the years and see bats used by the likes of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, and Hank Aaron. You can also take a few practice swings in an indoor batting cage using replica models of bats used by Ruth, Robinson, and other big leaguers.
And when it’s time to eat, head south towards Churchill Downs. Just across the street from the legendary Thoroughbred track is Wagner’s Pharmacy, a hole-in-the-wall shop and café that caters to trainers, stablehands, and tourists. Wagner’s has served no-frills breakfast and lunch staples since 1922.
“If you go to Churchill Downs or you go to the Derby museum, you have to go through here,” says Wagner’s cook Pam Pryor.
Lee Wagner, the pharmacy’s founder, would help track workers short on cash until payday, according to Pryor. He also concocted a liniment that trainers liked to use on their horses. Although Wagner’s no longer has a pharmacy, the dining area and gift shop continue to thrive. In the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, its tables are packed with leading trainers and owners as well as visiting celebrities and journalists, all enjoying biscuits and gravy, chili, tuna melts, hot roast beef sandwiches, and more.