The Vietnam Veterans of America, Capt. Bill Robinson Chapter of Knoxville, chapter no. 1078, presented Eddie Mannis, founder and president of Prestige Cleaners, with Honorary Lifetime Membership in VVA Tuesday afternoon in a ceremony at Sherrill Hills Retirement Center in West Knoxville.
Mannis was honored for his community leadership in planning and assembling the team that carries out the HonorAir Knoxville Flights, which takes area veterans of WW I, WW II, Korea and Vietnam on a flight to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials that honor them. Prestige Cleaners was the lead sponsor. It continues to be, and is now joined by Covenant Health as a major sponsor, along with other community organizations and individuals.
Mannis first got the idea of establishing Honor Air flights in 2007 when he participated as a guardian, or escort, on a North Carolina flight. With Mannis’ efforts, the first Knoxville flight was on Oct. 13, 2007. In April 2011, Korean Veterans were added to the flights. Flight 19, in the fall of 2015, was the first flight to include Vietnam veterans. Flight 21 was the first to be entirely Vietnam veterans. Flight 25 will occur on Oct. 24. The cost of flights has risen from $60,000 per flight, for the early flights, to the current cost of $80,000.
When asked when the honor flights might end, Mannis answered, “How do we say no? I’m not sure when we’ll take our last flight. I’ll say we’ll continue until the community stops supporting us.”
Mannis is the fourth Tennesseean to be honored with lifetime membership in VVA by the Knoxville chapter. The first was actor and model, Jennifer O’Neill, who works diligently for veterans, especially veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. O’Neill dedicated and converted a significant portion of her Nashville-area property to develop and operate an equine therapy-based program at Hillenglade, specifically to support of Vietnam veterans and their families affected by PTSD.
The second lifetime honoree was Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. As a state legislator, Burchett worked to establish March 29 as the annual Vietnam Veterans Day in Tennessee. He also worked to establish the Ben Atchley State Veterans Home in Knox County. As county mayor, Burchett created the Veterans Service Office with two full-time county service officers to assist veterans, survivors and families in dealings with the Veterans Administration. He also codified hiring preferences to ensure that every veteran applying for employment in Knox County receives an interview.
The third lifetime recipient was John Becker, news anchor at WBIR television. Launched in 2008, his weekly segment “Service and Sacrifice” reports on the lives and challenges of East Tennessee veterans and their families. Becker accompanied Robinson chapter veterans on a return trip to Vietnam this spring, producing the documentary “Facing Ghosts” to chronicle their trip.
The idea for honoring Mannis began with the group of veterans who live at Sherrill Hills. Robert “Buzz” Buswell, Knox County director of Veterans and Senior Services, also a Vietnam veteran, meets with the group regularly. Together with the Capt. Robinson Chapter of VVA, they worked out the logistics of presenting Mannis with lifetime membership in VVA.
The Knoxville Capt. Robinson Chapter of VVA is the No. 1 ranked chapter out of more than 550 chapters across the country. The selection is based on a range of factors, including number of members, percentage of active members and the involvement of the chapter in serving the community.