SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — Honor Flights freely transport veterans to view monuments erected in recognition of their services. Founded in 2007 from the merger of two separate organizations, Honor Flight and HonorAir, the Honor Flight Network has helped usher 200,000 veterans to view their memorials. Co-founders Earl Morse and Jeff Miller both sons of war veterans received the Presidential Citizens Medal from George W. Bush in the Oval Office in 2008. Since its inception, the organization has helped facilitate chapter openings all over the United States. 

President of the Honor Flight California Central Coast (HFCCC) Bear McGill said his son Greg first got him excited about the program. Greg, a Kern County firefighter, went to the Kern County Honor Flight hub and requested to piggyback on their operation by inviting vets from San Luis Obispo County. Bear first participated as a Guardian who is an individual that assists in the transportation and the needs of their assigned aging veterans. Bear said he was hooked from the get-go. The SLO County Chapter was established in 2014 and since then Bear said the group has facilitated the transport of over 320 veterans. Originally, the flights were meant for World War II veterans but now invites all vets to attend with the oldest receiving priority treatment.

Currently, Guardians pay approximately $1500 to take the flight but Bear says they are trying to lower the costs for the volunteers. “We’re hoping to lower the price on that, we’ve been doing analysis with our trips and it looks like our trips have come down a little bit,” Bear said. He stressed that 100 percent of all the funds garnered go directly back to the veterans. “There’s not one person in my organization, on my board, that gets paid. We are all just here to volunteer and to make sure these veterans get the proper treatment that they really deserve.”

As with everything in life, the unexpected often rears its inconvenient head and plane trips are no exception. However, Bear says whenever things do not go according to plan, American Airlines always ensures HFCCC participants are treated like the VIPs that they are. 

“We have never ever missed our connector [flight] in Pheonix. They know that they have an Honor Flight coming in and they hold it for the veterans which is awesome,” Bear said. He recalled once the flight from the Pheonix Sky Harbor International Airport to San Luis Regional Airport  was delayed due to fog and described how the airlines went above and beyond in their care for the war heroes. Bear said that not only did AA provide hotel lodging in a 5-star hotel for free, they also provided free transportation to and from the airport and provided ‘a big spread of food and drinks’ at the airport and provided a separate flight for the return home. Last October, Bear said their connector flight from SLO to Pheonix was canceled and the airlines attempted to reroute them to Regan International, which would not work with the logistics already laid out for the group. Bear said the airline said they worked out a way to upgrade the vets with a new flight.

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“They have it decorated with a flag and everything,” said Bear, “it’s a 139 passenger plane for 49 of us. They had a crew that was on their days off and came in they flew us to BWI Airport back in Maryland and they turned around and flew that plane back empty.”

HFCCC’s latest flight will escort 22 people to visit the Washington Mall; 7 WWII, 14 Korean and 1 Vietnam Veteran. Bear explained that there the flights are performed only a few times a year due to the weather on the East Coast. With the fragile health of the honorees, it would be unwise to expose them to overly cold or hot and humid conditions. 

The next planned trip occurs on Oct. 28 with a return flight arrives at night on Wednesday, Oct. 30 on American Airlines from Pheonix. People wishing to greet the returning war heroes should arrive at 9:30 p.m. and are encouraged to check the flight status by calling 805-242-0536.