The HonorAir Knoxville flight on April 11, 2018, will be its 26th to our nation’s capital for 130 or so veterans. The HonorAir logo, if you look carefully, carries five words that describe our proud veterans: “Strength, Courage, Wisdom, Power and Grace.”
But changes are coming.
Wednesday, the Rotary Club of Farragut heard from the man who started it all in Knoxville in October 2007, taking an idea and suggestion from a cleaning business buddy in Hendersonville, N.C., and turning it into what it is today. The speaker was Eddie Mannis, founder and owner of Prestige Cleaners, former deputy to the mayor of Knoxville and the man who runs HonorAir Knoxville.
Why does he do it? “After one of our recent trips a Vietnam vet came up to me and said it was the happiest day of his life and he was skeptical about even taking the trip,” Eddie said. “Things like that and seeing the thousands of people at the airport to welcome our vets home. It’s special, really special.”
And about the changes? Since it began here in 2007, HonorAir has flown veterans to Washington, D.C., three times a year. In 2018 there will only be two flights, Mannis said. He attributes that to the shrinking pool of World War II veterans left in East Tennessee and to the poor health of many that prevents them from making the trip now.
In response to that, HonorAir will have a “virtual” third flight for those in bad health who cannot make the whirlwind trip. It will be on June 16, 2018, at Bridgewater Place. Mannis said more details will be coming out early in 2018 as all of the details fall into place.
After Mannis’ presentation, the club gave him a check for $3,000 to sponsor veterans on future trips. Farragut Rotary in 2017 sponsored three vets on the last flight and also Rotarian the Rev. David Bluford was a chaperone on that flight.
One thing we learned Wednesday is that Farragut Rotarian Mary Ann Imgram was involved in HonorAir on the other end of the trip when she was a Rotarian in two clubs in the Washington area. “It’s great to see Mary Ann here today,” Eddie said. “She was the one providing us with all of our support needs once we were on the ground in DC. She’s been a part of this for a long time now.”
Imgram, who has worked with HonorAir since 2008, shared with us the impact it had on her: “HonorAir changed my life and how I view the world. I met so many heroes and I heard their stories and cried with them too. I even read some of the letters that they sent home to their moms,” she said. “But the thing that I found most interesting was they left Knoxville as very young men. They experienced war at its worst but when it was time to go home, they went back to their little communities and became husbands, fathers, grandfathers and lived very ordinary lives. They were proud to serve their country. They felt it was their duty and they never looked back. HonorAir is the best thing to ever happen to me and I mean that with my whole heart.”
Here are some fast HonorAir facts:
- Since October 2007, HonorAir Knoxville has ferried 3,300 veterans to Washington.
- It began with World War II veterans. Korean Conflict vets were added in 2011 and Vietnam vets were added in 2015.
- Today, the waiting list for Vietnam vets is at just more than 600.
- Each flight costs $85,000 and the money is raised through donations and sponsorships.
- About 30 other cities sponsor HonorAir flights but Eddie says that is a shifting number each year.
The vets visit all of the war memorials, see the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and stroll the Mall before the return flight home. Part of that return flight includes “mail call” when the vets read letters from their family members and friends. “That is a part of this that is so special to them,” Mannis said.