Story by Derrill Holly/ECT Staff Writer/ Published October 8, 2013
Honor flights of aging military veterans to the nation’s capital are continuing despite the federal government shutdown, and electric cooperative consumer-members are among those making the trips.
An Honor Flight group sponsored by electric cooperatives in Missouri, visit the World War II Memorial, Oct. 2. (Photo By: Crawford EC)
National Park Service crews erected barriers to keep people from the monuments, but Wayne Lennep, public information coordinator for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, said that didn’t stop them from completing their journey on Oct. 1, just hours after the shutdown. “Our group of 91 veterans went anyway and crossed the barricades,” he said of this first Honor Flight contingent to challenge the closure.
“U.S. Park Police never attempted to block our access to the World War II Memorial,” he added.
A day after that trip, the National Park Service issued a statement saying, “The Honor Flights are being granted access to the WWII memorial to conduct First Amendment activities in accordance with National Park Service regulations.”
The Honor Flight Network has nearly 70 tours to Washington, D.C., scheduled during October. Access to the war memorials carries even greater urgency as the advanced age and limited mobility of surviving World War II veterans signal the end of some Honor Flight activities. More than 20 scheduled tours have taken place since the government shutdown began, Oct. 1.
“We worked to get ready for this for two months,” said Scott Blue, an energy management specialist with Crawford Electric Cooperative, who served as a guardian on an Oct. 2 flight from the St. Louis area. The Bourbon, Mo.-based co-op sponsored two veterans. “Electric cooperatives have always been strong supporters of the program because we have been able to insure that rural veterans are able to make the trip.”
The flights, paid for by donations from individuals and companies, including electric cooperatives, are often planned and scheduled months in advance. Volunteers, who act as guardians for the aging vets, are required to undergo special training.