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Honor Flight of Northeast Tennessee: Honoring the veterans who have given so much

May 30th, 2014 4:45 pm by Collin Brooks

Honor Flight of Northeast Tennessee: Honoring the veterans who have given so much

War memorials are meant to be cherished by the masses, but they are also eternal debts of gratitude, erected for the people who gave so much.

But what happens if the people they were constructed to honor never to get relish in their recognition?

With World War II veterans dying at a staggering rate of one every 90 seconds, a group like Honor Flight of Northeast Tennessee is an ever-important cause to help our servicemen gain closure to an important time in their lives.

"I feel like this is my way of giving back to the men and women that gave to us and gave us our freedom," chapter president Edie Lowry said. "This is a way of showing appreciation."

Lowry never served in the military but had several family members that did, including a stepfather that was a POW in World War II. Feeling the need to give back, Lowry decided to form the organization after she retired to the region four years ago.

The group takes around 25 veterans to Washington D.C. for a three-day, all-expenses-paid bus trip to view the monuments that were created in their honor.

"During the process of planning these trips, I get emotional," Lowry said. "I tell the guardians that are going on these trips that it is a no makeup weekend. You can put your makeup on, but by the time you meet the veterans, your makeup is gone."

Because each veteran is in his or her 80s or 90s, they are accompanied by a volunteer guardian to assist them during their trips. It can be just as special an experience for those guardians as it is for the veterans.

"Just watching our veterans, looking at their memorials, they will just sit there. Most of them have never talked about their experience in the war," Lowry said.

Some of those past experiences seem to arise after the veterans return home.

"We would get phones calls when we get back off of these trips from the wives," Lowry said. "'What have you done to my husband?' We thought that they might be upset with us, but it is something that they appreciate because their husbands have started to talk about their time in the war."

One of the veterans that made the trip, Mory DeWitte, appreciated the opportunity and still cherishes the chance he was given.

"Awesome, now-a-days, is an overused word but awesome is truly the word to use in this case," said DeWitte of his experience. "We were treated unbelievably from beginning to end. It was truly overwhelming.

"We are all getting older and it's really nice to talk with some people that are your age, that have been through what you have been through, and trade war stories, if you will."

Some of the veterans are at an age where they shy away from taking the trip - a notion that DeWitte hopes doesn't deter anyone from taking on the experience.

"Whatever hesitancy you have, you should put it it aside," DeWitte said. "No matter what your infirmities, or what, you will be well taken care of."

Lowry always encourages veterans to take the trip, because of the transformation she witnesses first-hand.

"When we get back, they are happy they went because it is an experience for them to get that closure," Lowry said.

The group has taken four trips, including one this past April. They also took a trip to during the government shutdown.

"That didn't stop Honor Flight," said Lowry of the closure of the monuments. "To give to our veterans for what they worked and fought for, none of the Honor Flights nationwide allowed that government shutdown to stop us."

Honor Flight is a nationwide organization with hubs in hundreds of cities. They all branched out from the Springfield, Ohio, birthplace. East Tennessee is only one of three hubs that take the veterans by bus, and it's the only bus excursion that is a three-day trip.

The branch encompasses a 100-mile radius spanning into North Carolina and Virginia, but it is the veterans of the Northeast Tennessee region that come first.

The group is taking a trip in October and then again in April of 2015. There are still spots available for both trips. Anyone interested in volunteering time or financial contributions can visit the chapter's Facebook page at Honor Flight Of North East Tennessee.

"If you have never served, then serve this way," Lowry said.

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