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Examiner
  • Honor Flight group helps veterans visit memorials in Washington

  • It’s been nearly a year since the Lee’s Summit chapter of the Heartland Honor Flight was organized.

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  • It’s been nearly a year since the Lee’s Summit chapter of the Heartland Honor Flight was organized.
    And in that time, two flights to Washington, D.C., have spirited away local World War II veterans to the capital to see what they may have already seen long ago or have never seen.
    Joe Gatley of Independence, a spry 85-year-old Navy veteran, saw the May 1 trip it as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
    “I’m looking forward to the trip,” Gatley said the Sunday before the trip. “Mostly the changing of the guard.”
    Gatley, who spent his 17th birthday in boot camp, enlisted in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Jan. 29, 1943. He would remain in the Navy until 1946.
    “Five of us went down to enlist, but I was the only one they took,” he said, chuckling.
    His service took him to Pearl Harbor and various locations in the Pacific, including Japan. Much of what Gatley experienced is still, to this day, shrouded in mystery, he said.
    “We weren’t permitted above deck a lot of the time,” he said.
    Following his release, he moved to the Kansas City area and worked 50 years at Tom Richards Grocery Store on U.S. 24. He heard about the Heartland Honor Flight and the men who went on the trip, and he was excited to go.
    “Guys say you just can’t believe the way they treat you,” he said. “I’ve known guys in three different groups that have gone, and they all said the same thing.”
    Gatley was sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
    The Lee’s Summit chapter, which accepts World War II vets from a 150-mile radius, enlists the help of seven volunteers – and by all accounts, it’s flourishing.
    Helen Matson, volunteer services coordinator with the Independence Parks and Recreation Department and secretary of the Heartland Honor Flight, said the May 1 trip was a success and indicative of the first and future ones.
    “It went off without a hitch,” she said, adding that the trip was her sixth. She and current member Gary Swanson orchestrated three flights prior to the creation of the Lee’s Summit chapter in 2011.
    A special contributor to The Examiner, Matson said the volunteer-based Heartland Honor Flight tried something different this time around: allowing adult children of the veterans to attend with them for a set fee.
    On May 1, 29 veterans and 25 escorts left Kansas City International Airport. They arrived at Reagan National Airport at about 9:30 a.m. and went straight to the World War II Memorial, the newest memorial in the nation’s capital and built entirely with donations.
    Following that, they stopped at the Korea and Vietnam memorials before going to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns.
    Page 2 of 2 - Jerry Ameling, president of the Lee’s Summit chapter, said as World War II veterans age, the demands required in getting them from Kansas City to Washington increase.
    “Eleven out of the 29 who went this time around needed wheelchairs,” Ameling said. “We’re looking at a group of men who are in their upper 80s and 90s.”
    On May 1, the chapter allowed sons and/or daughters to accompany their fathers on the trip for a fee. About two-thirds  of the men took advantage of it, he said.
    The organization is funded entirely through donations. One benefactor has helped tremendously, Ameling said, ensuring that its inaugural trip in October 2011 became a reality.
    Ameling said it’s difficult to know just how many World War II veterans are alive in the Kansas City area. Another Heartland Honor Flight chapter in North Kansas City has a larger veteran base to choose from, and Lee’s Summit often does draw from that chapter, but there is still no way of knowing.
    “Veterans hear about this by word of mouth or in other ways,” Ameling said.
    The Honor Flight program was founded in Springfield, Ohio, in the mid-2000s. Chapters throughout the country subsequently opened up.
    After most of World War II veterans pass away, the Honor Flight organization will concentrate on Korean War veterans, then Vietnam and so on.
    For information on how to donate to the Heartland Honor Flight organization, visit www.heartlandhonorflight.org or call 816-810-2411.
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